Tasha Alexander’s precise attention to historical details invests her series about Lady Emily Hargreaves with an unshakeable background that she expertly weaves into solid plots. Alexander doesn’t just drop in facts but makes them vital to moving her stories along.
Alexander’s skills shine in “In the Shadow of Vesuvius,” the 14th novel in her series. In addition to being a solid mystery, “In the Shadow of Vesuvius” is a look at the excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and how the residents lived during that time before Vesuvius’s 79 CE eruption as well as the role of tourists to the sites in the early 1900s.
It’s 1902, and Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband, Colin, rent a villa near Pompeii. Their vacation takes a different turn when they find the body of a man, encased in plaster to make it seem as if he has been there for centuries. The victim was American journalist Clarence Walker who knew some of the archaeologists, including Callie Carter and her artist brother, Benjamin.
Alexander keeps the suspense level high as she explores the history of Pompeii, its plunder by those who first uncovered the ruins and the attempts in 1902 to ethically restore it. In the 1900s, tourist flocked here, though nothing like the influx that occurred during the 21st century.
“In the Shadow of Vesuvius” alternates from 1902 to the journal entries of Pompeian poet Quinta Flavia Kassandra, who was once a slave in the ancient times. Emily feels quite connected to these ruins. “It was impossible not to catch glimpses of the past, standing in the exact spot ancient people had so long ago, feeling the acute pain of the heartbreak of their final moments. It was intoxicating and frightening, a lure I couldn’t resist,” says Lady Emily.
Lady Emily is a thoughtful investigator, a modern woman of 1902 who chafes as some of the times’ rules. Her insight has earned her the respect of others, including law enforcement. Her close, loving relationship with her husband, who does “discreet work” for the palace and King Edward VII, enhances the plots. Even the appearance of Colin’s daughter, Kat von Lange, whom he didn’t know he had, can’t break this couple’s bonds.