Welcome to the first installment of Corvina Reviews, where I’ll be discussing the books I’ve read! I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but sometimes it may be unavoidable—reader beware! Up first is the fifth installment in the Lady Emily series, Dangerous to Know.
Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander follows protagonist Lady Emily Hargreaves through the French countryside to solve yet another murder. After stumbling upon the gruesome corpse of Edith Prier, Lady Emily and her husband Colin set off to solve the case, along with a myriad of friends and neighbors. The case leads Emily to a whole host of potential suspects—Edith’s twin brother, Laurent Prier, being her number one.
While trying to solve Edith’s murder, Emily faces her own demons—her mother-in-law, and the grief of her recent miscarriage which seemingly manifests itself in the shape of a crying little girl with a blue ribbon. Local ghost stories, and the descent into madness demonstrated by Edith and the Hargreaves’ neighbor, Madeline Markham, all work to put Emily at unease. Could it be that her grief has finally broken her? Or is there more to the story than meets the eye?
As I mentioned in my January TBR post, I’ve been trying to read this novel for ages. It was very slow going at the start—mostly because I was still recovering from the shocking news of (Spoiler!) Emily’s miscarriage at the end of Tears of Pearl. I “started” reading in late October, but my ~official~ start date on Goodreads was December 23. That was when I really sat down to delve into the story… but even so, it took me a little over a month to get to the end. My official end date was January 26.
There were a number of things I liked (read: loved) about this book, and a few things I wasn’t too crazy about. To start, I’ll just jump right in and say holy shit the plot twist in the last two chapters left me reeling. Seriously, I made the mistake of trying to read on my lunch break at work and I couldn’t put it down. As with any mystery, we as the reader are given a number of characters that may or may not be guilty of murder. It often becomes obvious that the main suspect isn’t guilty (but I stand by a statement I made earlier this week about having serious Flowers in the Attic vibes from Laurent when he talked about his sister, Edith)—but ho-ly shit, then I was completely floored by the reveal. The scene itself took me off guard—the last we see of Emily, she’s just fainted in the Markham’s maze. When she wakes up on the next page, she’s faced with the murderer in such a Frankenstein-esque manner, I audibly gasped. Of all the books in this series so far, I think this one may have been my favorite plot twist.
I also adored the way we got glimpses of Mrs. Hargreaves’ thoughts through her diary entries at the end of chapters. As much as I love Emily, it’s nice to step into someone else’s mind at times. The additional commentary from Colin’s mother added more fuel to my fire of frustration whenever she’d write about her disdain for Emily—which, let’s be real, just made me all the more invested. I was desperate for Emily to prove herself to this woman, and getting to watch that process through Mrs. Hargreaves’ thoughts was a real treat if you ask me.
While Emily and Mrs. Hargreaves are the only characters we get to interact one on one with, we have to give space to appreciate the familiar faces that join Emily on her latest adventure. Sebastian especially was a fantastic addition to the cast—as helpful as he was, the kleptomaniac added a nice touch of humor in an otherwise dismal murder investigation. Plus, his adoration of our protagonist is pretty adorable to read about.
Above all, though, I think I enjoyed Emily’s resilience the most in this novel. She starts the story at an all-time low—she’s just lost a child, was nearly killed in the process, and was whisked away to her judgemental mother-in-law’s house in the French countryside, away from her friends and family, to recover. I will admit, at times Emily got on my nerves—I’ll touch on that more in a bit—but I’ve developed such a love of this character that I spent the whole time rooting for her to get back to her old self. When we reach the end, it really feels like that—or at least like she’s on her way.
Speaking of Emily’s character arc throughout the story, my biggest faults with the novel also lie here. Well, not necessarily with her progression, but more so with Colin’s response to it. Obviously he’s a concerned husband, obviously he’s also mourning the loss of his child, but he’s just… so… rude about it. Colin Hargreaves is my dream guy, but his place in this story really shattered that dream for me (or made him more three-dimensional? I’m still angry at him so the jury’s still out). Every time Emily came to him with a complaint, he brushed her off and dismissed her. He pulled the whole I’m your husband and you’ll do as I say card way too much, especially when their entire relationship is rooted in not fucking doing that. Like, seriously, you build an entire connection with someone on the grounds that you are equals—no matter how radical an idea this is for the time period—and then you yank that right out from under your wife’s feet when she’s in her most vulnerable state? That’s messed up, Colin.
Emily spends a fair deal of this novel crying, but so many of those moments are because of Colin. And she accepts his half-assed apologies and kisses him like nothing happened WHEN SHE’S STILL CRYING COME ON EMILY. There was more than one occasion where I texted some variation of the above to my boyfriend because I was (and still am) pissed! Emily is a strong, independent woman—I hate that she was so quick to whimper away her emotions instead of forcing Colin to sit there and listen to her. Moral of the story: Men Are Trash, Even Colin Hargreaves. Disappointing, I know.
(Even as I’m typing this, I know I’ll be over this in like a week and I’ll be hopelessly in love with Colin again, but right now I need to be mad. Take note, Emily.)
And, while we’re still on the subject of Emily crying, I disliked how helpless she felt for a good 75% of the story. It did make the ending all that much more interesting for me, to see her finally bust out of this helpless state and save the day, but for the first hundred pages or so it was excruciating. I just wanted to shake her!
As a final thing, I really hated Toinette Prier. All she did was make Emily self-conscious (and Colin did next to nothing to ease that uncertainty in his wife) and act like a complete bitch. Sure, she called out the hypocrisy of her family every chance she got, but I just had flashbacks to my bitchy teenage-angst phase whenever she was on the page. Especially in the final scene—I wondered what the point of her even being there was, aside from familial duty. It was clear she didn’t want to be there—and let’s be real, did anyone want her there? I certainly did not.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It was slow going at first, but once I was finally sucked into the mystery I couldn’t put it down. I would give it a solid 3.5/5 stars, and I’m excited to start the next novel in the series, A Crimson Warning.