Publication Date: September 6, 2022
About the Author: Katherine Cowley read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when she was ten years old, which started a lifelong obsession with Jane Austen. Her debut novel, The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her Mary Bennet spy series continues with the novels The True Confessions of a London Spy and The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception. Katherine loves history, chocolate, traveling, and playing the piano, and she has taught writing classes at Western Michigan University. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan with her husband and three daughters.
Napoleon has escaped his island prison, and England’s best spies have been sent to Brussels to gather intelligence as the continent sits on the brink of battle. Mary Bennet, in company with Lady Trafford and Mr. Withrow, are called upon to investigate the death of one of the Duke of Wellington’s officers. As the threat of Napoleon’s offensive advances ever closer, they must determine whether gambling debts, old rivalries, or French intrigue is at play in the murder. Along the way, they must overcome their prickly sensibility to each other’s company and perhaps discover that there could be more to their relationship than an uneasy truce.
This story of Mary Bennet’s growth in spycraft is the third in a series. In preparation for this blog tour, I read the opening installment. There, plain spinster Mary Bennet was invited to stay with Lady Trafford (a distant relation?) to learn more accomplishments as she prepares to become a governess…or is it really to become something else? I struggled to suspend disbelief in this initial book. (Why on earth would Mary’s family, including Elizabeth, let her stay with strangers without inquiring who they were? Why would anyone ever want Mary Bennet to be a spy with her total inability to read people or understand nuance?) In the opening novel, Mary’s character was as obtuse and ungraceful as might be expected, but I did not like the character as Jane Austen’s Mary Bennet and I did not understand the reasoning behind her selection or metamorphosis.
However, I discovered upon reading the third installment of this series, that I really did like the character as Katherine Cowley’s Mary Bennet. With some distance now from her “origin story,” the highly literal Mary is a unique character in Regency spy fiction, and even semi-believable as a burgeoning femme fatale. Whenever she needs to assume a new role, she thinks: what would Jane (or Elizabeth, or Kitty, or Lydia) do? And then goes and does likewise… Lady Trafford’s nephew, Mr. Withrow, who is a cold and standoffish character in the first book, comes alive in the third book. As spy heroes ought to be, he is a keen strategist, a sturdy pugilist, and an excellent kisser. All in all, this book was an enjoyable exploration of a unique woman who has now deviated far enough from Jane Austen’s Mary Bennet to be the heroine of her own tale.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher via BookFunnel. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
“She swallowed, attempting to rid herself of a sudden sense of inadequacy, but she could not escape the feeling. She was just Mary Bennet, an unimportant middle child in a normal family. Who was she to be a spy–who was she to do something of import? If she was honest with herself, she had achieved nothing of consequence her entire life. It was preposterous to think she could do so now. If her family were here, Kitty and Lydia would laugh at her delusions of grandeur. Elizabeth would make some clever comment but would not think her capable. Jane would say something kindly and supportive but would then attempt to dissuade her. Mrs. Bennet would express vocal disbelief, and her father… Well, if her father were alive, he would call her silly.”The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet, by Katherine Cowley
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