The melodramatic historical novel is neck-deep in pomp, circumstance, class warfare, and stilted observations of lives far removed form our own. So many have been written that the sheer number guarantees the stale formula generates more snoozers than not. But there are a few that rise above the template. A Fatal Waltz, billed as a “novel of suspense” is one such novel. It’s a breezy read with a depth of character and inventive plot.
Waltz is the latest book in the adventures of Lady Emily Ashton, a modern woman in the late nineteenth century with a knack for digging below the surface to uncover the deeper mysteries that lurk under any good British story. The opening part of the book takes place at the typical English countryside estate with the men out shooting, while the women are left in the study to gossip, read, and cast evil eyes at each other. But when a murder of an unpopular, yet politically powerful man, Lord Fortescue, occurs, the action switches to Vienna and Lady Ashton goes into full-on detective mode to help clear the name of her friend’s husband, who she believes was framed for the murder.
It’s in Vienna where the story matures, bringing a seamless marriage of scene and narrative. The Vienna of Alexander’s descriptions is vibrant and rich, alive with people huddled together in coffee shops exchanging radical ideas, creating art, and staving off the cold of the oncoming holiday season. It’s here in this vivid landscape that Lady Ashton enters the world of Viennese anarchists and puts on her bravest face, against the wishes of her fiancé, to orchestrate a convoluted scheme to out the true killer of Lord Fortescue. The book speeds along to a very satisfying climax, drifting out with a complete air of believability.
The interactions between Emily and her fiancé Colin are also interesting. She maintains this air of being above everything, but when a former flame enters the scene, Emily expresses jealousy, confusion, anxiousness, and anger - all real emotions you would hardly expect a proper British lady of the nineteenth century to show. You can feel the sense of dagger shooting in the scenes with Emily and her fiance’s ex. The dialogue is so cleanly written, it allows every emotion to seep through.