By Carol K. Carr

Berkley Prime Crime, February, 2013 ($15.00)

ISBN-13: 978-0-425-25595-7

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

India Black runs a very high-class brothel in Victorian London, hobnobbing with the rich and influential and turning heads everywhere she goes. She is also a most unlikely, but surprisingly effective, government agent. She has saved Queen Vickie's bacon a time or two, and familiarly calls Prime Minister Disraeli "Dizzy." Her dual occupations make for one heck of a fun story.

Anarchists from many European countries have found a haven in England, and they are continuing their efforts to bring down the upper classes. A number of British notables have been assassinated in London, and the city is living in fear. The Prime Minister calls on India for the third time, asking her to gather information on the culprits, using her special skills. On her previous two assignments, she worked with seasoned agent French — first name unknown, and she is a bit apprehensive about going it alone, but that doesn't stop her. The lady is a true British patriot, and she really, really likes adventure.

The first step in her plan involves spiriting away the top earner in the stable of a loathsome and vindictive madam from the poor side of town. That woman soon proves she is a force to be reckoned with, keeping India on her toes and looking over her shoulder. If not for Vincent, a street urchin who is her stout-hearted, if malodorous, right-hand boy, her adventures might have come to a quick halt.

India becomes embedded in a terrorist cell with a not-unlikable membership, and is soon gleefully planning mass destruction with the best of them. It's all make-believe, of course, she knows the government will never let the plans come to fruition, but she does have fun thinking up clever ways to bring down a few of her least-favorite toffs.

This is the third Madam of Espionage mystery, and it is pure pleasure. India is a unique, fresh, and delightful protagonist. The cast of characters is equally delightful: Vincent, who is a dead ringer for the Artful Dodger; Mrs. Drinkwater, her drunken housekeeper, whose cooking is so appalling that even starving prisoners wouldn't eat it; Mr. French, with his stiff upper lip and loosely guarded private life; the working girls India fondly refers to as her sluts; and the various neighbors, cab drivers and other denizens of the city. Victorian London, with its choking smog, pungent smells, and teeming streets is full of color and atmosphere. I highly recommend this series.

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