Death in St. Petersburg (Lady Emily)
by Tasha Alexander
Review by Steven Kuehn
Minotaur Books Hardcover / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250058287
Date: 03 October 2017
I imagine everyone who has ever been in a theater or dance production, or has been stricken with glossophobia, is familiar with the expression to "die" on stage. But what happens when the star of the show is found dead, her crimson blood spattered across the snow outside of the theater?
Thus opens Death in St. Petersburg, the twelfth book in the Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily Mystery series. Lady Emily is accompanying her husband Colin Hargreaves, agent for the British Crown, on assignment in St. Petersburg, the capital of Tsarist Russia. In the company of her dear friend Cécile du Lac, Emily enjoys the entertainment and social venues of wintry St. Petersburg, while Colin is engaged with his duties.
Upon leaving the Mariinsky Theatre after the final curtain of Swan Lake, Lady Emily finds the body of the star ballerina Nemetseva. With Colin involved in his own political intrigues, Emily is drawn into the murder investigation by Nemetseva’s lover, Prince Vasilii. Shortly thereafter, an agent of Colin’s is killed during a ball at the Yusupov Palace. But are the two deaths connected?
The murder of Nemetseva is the talk of St. Petersburg and the citizens soon report sightings of a ghostly ballerina with a crimson scarf, who appears and vanishes at various locations around the city. Lady Emily's investigations uncover a number of possible suspects, in particular, Katenka, ballerina and childhood friend of Nemetseva, who benefits directly from Nemetseva's death when she is elevated to the starring role.
The supporting cast of characters both new and old, each with their own agenda, add color and dimension to a well-rounded mystery. The reappearance of Sebastian Capet, thief and rogue (from Dangerous to Know, the fifth book in the Lady Emily Mystery series), was nice twist, although it certainly aggravated Colin.
When considered in historical context, the mystery touches significantly on the major, turbulent events that would soon engulf Europe in the early twentieth century.
As she has done in previous novels, Tasha Alexander alternates chapters between those in the present day, narrated by Emily, and those set in the past, focusing on Katenka and Nemetseva's childhood, training, and early life together in the ballet. A lesser author might have difficulty pulling this off, but Ms. Alexander weaves the two narrations together seamlessly.
Death in St. Petersburg is an exceptionally well-written novel. Ms. Alexander continues to reward her readers with a strong, solid, female lead and her dedication to historical accuracy has not diminished across this series. In this book, in particular, the city of St. Petersburg takes on a character of its own, simultaneously light and dark, both vibrant and foreboding. The mystery of the murdered ballerina is well crafted, with sufficient twists and turns to challenge even the most erudite reader.