Set some time around 1700 (I don't think the year is ever specified), it's an historical whodunnit featuring, as detectives, the Countess Ashby de la Zouche and her maid Alpiew. This is the third novel in a sequence, though there's little reference to backstory so it stands alone. The Ambitious Stepmother takes the pair to Paris and Versailles, the court of the Sun King, in search of a husband for a young woman whose stepmother wants her out of the way.
- dodgy historical background. (Difficult to know whether the author is inventing alternate history, or just sloppy with her research.)
- major plot elements that are skipped in the main narrative and then referred to, repeatedly, later on. Subplots come and go. The book feels unbalanced.
- knowingness. The book's full of anachronistic jokes at the characters' expense: the Countess meets a fellow-writer who keeps suggesting titles to her, only to be mocked for thinking that, e.g. a novel called 'Pride and Prejudice', or 'War and Peace', would sell. There's a sub-plot about the origin of Bechamel sauce.
- the author's often rather unkind to her protagonists, and resorts to shorthand in describing them. I have no idea what Alpiew looks like, except that she has large breasts. Ditto the Countess, except that she's fat (gleaned from many, many refs to 'pudgy hands', 'waddling' etc).
And sometimes verisimilitude is sacrificed for pure farcical excess:
Do you know, Alpiew, if a playwright put such a scene in a play, the audience would think his mind was in a frenzy and ... he would be dispatched instantly to Bedlam.
Yes, well, quite.
reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place