The Blackstone Key: Book Review

I’m not sure if I liked The Blackstone Key or not. It is set in 1795 in England while France and Britain are at war. It centers on a young schoolteacher, Mary Finch, who receives an unexpected letter from her estranged uncle. She sets out to meet him and becomes caught up in a complicated web of spies, smugglers, and police.

Most of the book is quite convoluted and it is very difficult to discern the motives of several of the main characters. I picked up the book because I saw the sequel in the new book section at my library and I hate reading books out of order. Now I cannot decide if I liked this one well enough to bother getting the sequel.

Rose Melikan is adept at setting the scene. The author bio says she is an American who lives in England where she is a Fellow at Cambridge and researching “eighteenth- and early nineteenth British political and constitutional history.

Unlike some academics who write fiction books, she doesn’t overwhelm the reader with the history, but instead focuses on setting the scene and developing the plot. The history unfolds through the course of the book. The nice thing about this book is that, as an English resident, she uses the proper terms and dialect, yet as an American, she knows which terms will not be easily understood by American readers and explains them in a casual manner, as she lets the history unfold.

Spoiler alert: Small spoilers follow. Just as I was becoming completely frustrated with the convolutions of the plot and the opaque motives of Hicks, Deprez, and Holland, the whole plot opened up like a flower and all became clear. My original suspicions of Deprez were accurate, although I was not completely correct about his full motives. It was quite satisfying.

Unfortunately, to get to that point required holding several threads of the plot and several possible motives for each character in mind as the plot unfolded and motives crossed and recrossed. The more I think about it, the more I think I will read the sequel. If you want to read the book, be forewarned that it is complicated and opaque, and nothing is clear until the very end.

Four stars out of five.

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