Madeleine E. Robins,
Point of Honour
(Forge, 2003)

Madeleine E. Robins introduces a fascinating, feisty character and an intriguing and convoluted mystery in Point of Honour, a hard-boiled mystery set in Regency England.

Sarah Tolerance was once Sarah Brereton, the daughter of a well-established family, until she eloped to Amsterdam with her brother's fencing master. Returned to England after her lover's death, disowned by her family, Sarah is left with few options, the most obvious and common of which is prostitution. Sarah has one advantage over other "fallen women." She is skilled in the use of the small-sword. The ability to defend herself, her sharp wits and her knowledge of the conventions of society combine into a self-designed occupation: "investigative agent." Adopting her chosen surname of "Tolerance," she sets up shop in a cottage in the garden of her aunt's brothel.

Her newest assignment seems straightforward: to recover a fan from a noble's long-ago mistress. But before one can say "small-sword," Sarah is plunged into a twisted world of politics, intrigue and murder, with an international cabal of scientists thrown in for good measure. There is more than one twist in the plot before the end, each deftly handled, and the reader either doesn't expect them or catches on at the last minute, rather than observing the characters' keen grasp of the obvious. The story is tightly knitted all the way through, with what seem to be extraneous subplots that prove vital to the story.

History geeks be warned; Robins changes the historical facts of the Regency to serve her story. She acknowledges her changes in an afterword.

The characters are wonderfully vivid. Sarah seems to leap off the page, her character brimming with appeal. Robins gives the other characters life through her use of details, small and warm touches that resonate in the reader over centuries.

Robins's commentary on the society of the time is informed by the work of Jane Austen, although tempered through hindsight. Her overall strength is her storytelling; the reader is swept away in the exciting, suspenseful plot. She ends the novel in such a way that there is potential for Sarah to continue her adventures. While the current expectation that one mystery will naturally lead to a series sometimes dismays me, I would certainly welcome another visit with Miss Sarah Tolerance.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 6 March 2004

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