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Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Author:  P. N. Elrod   (aka Patricia Elrod)  
Plot Type: Gaslamp Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—2-3   
Publisher and Titles:  Tor
          The Hanged Man (5/2015)


     The series is set in 1879 in an alternate London. Although England is ruled by Queen Victoria, this queen did not marry a German prince named Albert. Instead, she fell in love with "the dashing Lord Arthur Godalming, who was in the right place at the right time to rescue her from street ruffians." After marrying a peer instead of a prince, Victoria kept on defying custom by giving women and non-land-owners the right to vote (in 1859), an action than angered some of the male nobility. 

   When the Industrial Revolution caused an upheaval in dark magical forces, Victoria realized that England was in the throes of some serious supernatural problems, so she created a new department to deal with them: Her Majesty's Psychic Service. This series tells the stories of some of the psychically gifted agents of the Service.

                  MORE WORKS BY THIS AUTHOR                    
     Elrod has published more than 20 novels in the past 25 years. Back in 1990, she wrote her first VAMPIRE FILES novel, featuring hard-boiled PI Jack Fleming, whose first case (after his turning) is to find his own murderer among the mobster culture of 1930s Chicago. That terrific series currently has 12 books, with more to come. Elrod has also written other vampire series: JONATHAN BARRETT, GENTLEMAN VAMPIRE (set during the American Revolution); LORD RICHARD, VAMPIRE (set in the 1990s), and a pair of Dungeons and Dragons-related books featuring the dark and sinister vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich.

                    NOVEL 1:  The Hanged Man                   
     On a freezing Christmas Eve in 1879, a forensic psychic reader is summoned from her Baker Street lodgings to the scene of a questionable death. Alexandrina Victoria Pendlebury (named after her godmother, the current Queen of England) is adamant that the death in question is a magically compromised murder and not a suicide, as the police had assumed, after the shocking revelation contained by the body in question, Alex must put her personal loss aside to uncover the deeper issues at stake, before more bodies turn up.

     Turning to some choice alliesthe handsome, prescient Lieutenant Brooks; the brilliant, enigmatic Lord Desmond; and her rapscallion cousin JamesAlex will have to marshal all of her magical and mental acumen to save Queen and Country from a shadowy threat. Our singular heroine is caught up in this rousing gaslamp adventure of cloaked assassins, meddlesome family, and dark magic.

     Alex Pendlebury had an unusual childhood. Her parents separated when she was a child, and between the ages of 10 and 15, Alex traveled the world with her father, Lord Gerard Pendlebury—actually circumnavigating the globe twice during those five years. Then, Gerard suddenly sent her home to his family in London without an explanation and she hasn't heard from him for ten years. Alex has never gotten along with her Pendlebury relatives, and her mother's relations, the Fonteyns, are all a bit strange. Alex's mother went mad because she was never able to control her own psychical talents and turned to the bottle to drown the voices in her head. Gerard was determined that Alex would not suffer the same fate, so he found someone to teach her how to control her gift. Additionally, he made sure that she had the best self-defense training that he could find. Alex has never understood why her father sent her away, and she is still filled with deep emotional pain every time she thinks about Gerard.

     Alex is a Reader, which means that she can read emotions by touching a person or an object that person has touched. As an agent for Her Majesty's Psychic Service, Alex's primary job is to "read" murder scenes to find clues to the murderer's identity. When Alex is called to a crime scene just down the street from her own home, she determines that the male victim was not a suicide (as the police first believe) but that he was drugged and then hauled up on a rope attached to to a hook embedded in his bedroom ceiling. Oddly, Alex can't pick up any emotions left by the murderer. It's as if he (or she) were never there. The murder scene is a grisly one, made even worse when Alex realizes that the dead man is someone she knows very well. Later that night, Alex discovers that the murderer of the hanged man is also trying to kill her. (Note: Some reviewers reveal who the murdered man is, but I recommend that you avoid those reviews so that you can experience the same shock that Alex does when she learns his identity. Click HERE to read the entire first chapter from The Hanged Man, which ends with Alex's sad revelation.

     When Inspector Lennon of Scotland Yard learns of Alex's relationship with the dead man, she is immediately removed from the case and Mrs. Emma Woodwake, an experienced agent is sent to take her place. Mrs. Woodwake is accompanied by the head of the Service, Lord Richard Desmond. Suddenly, a group of masked and hooded thugs attacks the carriage carrying Alex, Mrs. Woodwake, and Lord Richard. The shooters are using exotic-looking firearms that shoot bullets but don't make a sound. When the trio tries to flee, the assassins pursue them, following them to the home of Alex's cousin, James, where they make another attack and succeed in murdering Lord Richard. 

     This thoroughly engrossing story then follows Alex and her allies as they try to solve the two murders. At the beginning, this seems to be a straightforward Victorian mystery, but soon supernatural elements enter the picture, and dark family secrets emerge. Elrod excels at both plotting and characterization, so you can be sure that she builds the suspense to the breaking point while introducing us to a set of fully realized characters, including the following:

Lieutenant Brook: a new Service employee who becomes Alex's driver and protector and who has a psychical talent of his own

Fingate: Gerard's valet, who seems to know more about the murder of the hanged man than he is willing to admit

Sybil: The Service's mad Seer, who prophesies that Alex will play a major role in solving this case

Dr. James Fonteyn: Alex's cousin, an eye surgeon who lives a dissolute life and never takes anything too seriously

Teddy Pendlebury: Alex's cousin (Andrina's brother), who works at a minor job in the Home Office, as does his father, Leo

Andrina Pendlebury: Alex's cousin (Teddy's sister), a lady-in-waiting to Princess Alice; Andrina hates Alex and made her life miserable during the time Alex lived with the Pendlebury family

     As the investigation moves along, stranger and stranger events begin to occur, and Alex and her protector, Mr. Brook, are forced to deal with various supernatural creatures, magical mirrors, and large-scale human betrayal. By the time the mind-blowing showdown scene arrives, Alex realizes that nothing is as it seems and that some of the people closest to her have been deceiving her for many years. She also learns that her London world is rife with supernatural elements of which she was never awareuntil now.

     This is a fresh and inventive novela great beginning for what will certainly be an excellent series. It begins as a murder mystery, then adds a few bloody gun battles, and throws in conspiracies within conspiracies as it roars along at an exhilarating pace toward a stunning conclusion. Elrod is a first-rate story teller who writes novels (like this one) that you just can't put down until you've read that very last page. 

     Alex is an intelligent and independent young heroine who deals with her talentor cursein the best way she knows how. Until now, she has refused any romantic entanglements, but she may be changing her mind. Lieutenant Brook hates his psychic hunches, mostly because they control his behavior, causing him to do things that he doesn't even realize that he is doing. Alex recognizes Brook's frustration, and she also recognizes that he has the ability to calm her down when the emotions of others threaten to overwhelm her. This will be a great relationship to follow in upcoming books. I highly recommend this novel (and the series to follow). 

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