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Bradley Harper
Queen’s Gambit

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

Spring, 1897. London. Margaret Harkness, now in her early forties, must leave England for her health but lacks the funds. A letter arrives from Professor Joseph Bell, her old comrade in the hunt for Jack the Ripper and the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Homes. Bell invites her to join him in Germany on a mysterious mission for the German government involving the loss of state secrets to Anarchists. The resolution of this commission leads to her being stalked through the streets of London by a vengeful man armed with a powerful and nearly silent air rifle who has both Margaret and Queen Victoria in his sights. Margaret finds allies in Inspector James Ethington of Scotland Yard and his fifteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who aspires to follow in Margaret's cross-dressing footsteps. The hunt is on, but who is the hunter, and who the hunted as the day approaches for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee when the aged empress will sit in her open carriage at the steps of St Paul's Cathedral? The entire British Empire holds its breath as the assassin, Margaret, and the Queen herself play for the highest of stakes with the Queen's Gambit.
Harper’s riveting second Victorian crime novel follows Margaret Harkness, the cross-dressing, whip-smart novelist introduced in 2018’s A Knife in the Fog, as she chases down Herman Ott, a Russian-turned-German anarchist determined to kill Harkness, whom he mistakenly believes is responsible for his wife’s death. Harkness and her newfound acquaintances, Scotland Yard Inspector James Ethington and his would-be detective daughter, Elizabeth, hunt Ott through the streets of 1897 London after realizing he plans to assassinate Queen Victoria at her upcoming Diamond Jubilee ceremony.

Readers will enjoy following the slow unraveling of the web as Margaret and the Ethingtons circle around Ott. There are many characters—some only gracing one or two chapters—and though the shifts in focus can be confusing, they ultimately help to paint a wide, detailed picture of the setting. Margaret and James’s budding feelings for each other are a delightful escape from the darkness of Ott’s intentions, but the best relationship of all is between Margaret and Elizabeth. The 15-year-old lost her mother two years prior and is clearly searching for a non-male role model, which she finds in Margaret. The two women complement each other, with Margaret’s blunt, no-nonsense attitude and independence inspiring Elizabeth to speak her mind. The dialogue can feel a little clunky, but the language fits with the formalities of Victorian London.

One of the most delightful elements is Harper’s inclusion of colorful people from history, whose lives he outlines in short bios in the back of the book. Margaret liaises with Professor Joseph Bell (the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes), Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain; she also encounters Archduke Franz Ferdinand and, of course, Queen Victoria. She herself is based on the radical writer Margaret Harkness, who used the pen name John Law. Any crime fan or Victorian era history buff will find this a satisfying saga of female empowerment and adventure.

Takeaway: This suspenseful story will delight Victorian crime readers with strong female leads and a satisfying chase through 1897 London’s foggy streets.

Great for fans of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, Anne Perry, Arthur Conan Doyle.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: B-
Marketing copy: B

Killer Nashville Book of the Year!

Queen's Gambit was just announced as the 2020 winner of Killer Nashville's Silver Falchion Award in two categories, both as Best Suspense Novel and as Book of the Year!