India Black by Carol K. Carr
“My name is India Black, and I am a whore.”
That opening line gives you a good idea what you’re getting into by delving into the first book in this series. Meet India Black, unrepentant and fairly successful madam of the Lotus House, which is just as bawdy as it sounds. It’s not easy for a woman to run her own business in 19th century London, but things always get more complicated when corpses are involved.
Alas, one of India’s regulars dies in the midst of a “game” with one of her girls. The man, a rather important figure in the War Office, cannot be found dead at Lotus House; such a thing would ruin India permanently. India sets up a plan to get the dead fellow (and his possessions) out of her house before his death is connected with her. Alas, as things so often do, events swerve sideways and sensitive documents belonging to the dead man are stolen. India now finds herself immersed in Victorian spy games in order to avert an international crisis. Aided by a British spy named French, India must help retrieve the stolen documents or risk losing Lotus House, and her freedom, forever.
I really enjoyed this book. It is set in the latter half of the 18oos, when Russia and England were rattling their collective sabers at each other. Carr couches this book in enough real historical events to add gravity to the plot. India herself is a strong female lead: smart, calculating, and more than a bit ruthless. Her reluctant partner in crime, French, is appropriately mysterious, and generally able to keep up with the leading lady. The pace of the book is fast, launching us from seedy alleyways to grand ballrooms to wild chases across the country side. The supporting characters are as well drawn as the leads, and I have little doubt that quite a few will make appearances in future books. This is a great book for an evening or two, curled up in a comfortable chair with a glass of whiskey.