And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

And Only to Deceive, by Tasha Alexander, was published in 2005 by William Morrow.

For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was an easy way to escape her overbearing mother, who was set on a grand society match. So when Emily’s dashing husband died on safari soon after their wedding, she felt little grief. After all, she barely knew him. Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different man from the one she had married so cavalierly. His journals reveal him to have been a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who, to her surprise, was deeply in love with his wife. Emily becomes fascinated with this new image of her dead husband and she immerses herself in all things ancient and begins to study Greek. Emily’s intellectual pursuits and her desire to learn more about Philip take her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, one of her husband’s favorite places. There, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, generous secret involving stolen artifacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. And to complicate matters, she’s juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. As she sets out to solve the crime, her search leads to more surprises about Philip and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated.

What a fun book! There’s a lot of unreliability going on in the background of And Only to Deceive: an unreliable narrator, unreliable suitors, even an unreliable husband (in the sense that his actual character is unknown: is Emily in the end perhaps attributing too much of him, as she once attributed too less? What was he really like?). Oh, and there’s also unreliable historical artifacts!

Emily as the unreliable narrator was a bit obvious, as in she was obviously unreliable. She says and does one thing and means another. She pokes and prods at propriety, yet in the end remains steadfast to it in her own way. And she’s especially unreliable when it comes to knowing people: as much as she thinks she’s good at it, Emily is spectacularly bad at reading people. And Alexander shows us her rash, slightly arrogant nature beautifully with Emily’s inner dialogue and her comments to her friends.

The mystery is good, even if I found it a little obvious. In fact, I found it so obvious that I had trouble accepting that the reveal was actually the reveal. I kept expecting a twist to pop up sooner or later. But the book is more than just a mystery: it’s historical fiction and romance, and at its heart it’s about a wife who finds out her husband loved her, and the mysteries that surround his hobby. It’s not full-out mystery, but integrated with other things—so perhaps that’s why the mystery itself was a little cut-and-dry.

And you know what? That’s okay.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None, although there’s some dancing around and teasing about wedding nights and the like.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

“Did I tell you the story of Philip’s triumphant elephant hunt?”

“Yes, chérie, you did. I thought you disliked hunting.”

“I do. But it seems that Philip was able to commune with the animals in a way that was truly noble.”

“If he really communed with the animals, I would think he wouldn’t have wanted to shoot them. I must say that your renewed interest in Philip is somewhere between distressing and morbid. It is time that you move on, Kallista. Philip was a good man, but he is dead. You can get nothing more from him, especially love.”

“You’re right, of course, but I cannot help regretting that I did not know the man better. He grows more fascinating with every account of him that I hear. Arthur Palmer called on me yesterday and told me that Philip actually arranged to have the son of one of their African guides schooled in England. Apparently the boy speaks quite good English.”

“No one questions Philips’ excellent character. I only ask that you remember he is dead.”

Overall Review:

And Only to Deceive relies on mystery, tension, and unreliability even in its characters—and the book is all the better for it, since the mystery itself isn’t all that special. But for a novel of historical fiction, it’s pretty great, and so the mystery is just an added bonus. And I also appreciated that Alexander stayed true to Emily’s rash, independent character all the way through the book, especially at the end (even if I was a teensy bit disappointed at how it all worked out).

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