Book: “City of Lies” by Victoria Thompson
Publishing Info: Berkley, November 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley
Book Description: Like most women, Elizabeth Miles assumes many roles; unlike most, hers have made her a woman on the run. Living on the edge of society, Elizabeth uses her guile to relieve so-called respectable men of their ill-gotten gains. But brutal and greedy entrepreneur Oscar Thornton is out for blood. He’s lost a great deal of money and is not going to forgive a woman for outwitting him. With his thugs hot on her trail, Elizabeth seizes the moment to blend in with a group of women who have an agenda of their own.
She never expects to like or understand these privileged women, but she soon comes to respect their intentions, forming an unlikely bond with the wealthy matriarch of the group whose son Gabriel is the rarest of species—an honest man in a dishonest world. She knows she’s playing a risky game, and her deception could be revealed at any moment, possibly even by sharp-eyed Gabriel. Nor has she been forgotten by Thornton, who’s biding his time within this gilded orbit, waiting to strike. Elizabeth must draw on her wits and every last ounce of courage she possesses to keep her new life from being cut short by this vicious shadow from her past.
Review: Victoria Thompson is a very prolific mystery author, with another long-running steampunk series, that somehow I’ve completely missed! But, as nice as it is to discover a new author with a long-running series, it’s also a bit intimidating to look at as a whole. With that in mind, I was thrilled to learn that she was starting a new series just this fall. Problem solved: get in at the beginning of this series and have another series to happily follow for years to come! Or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, you also have to enjoy the first book for this long-game plan to really work. And while there are pieces that I enjoyed here and there, “City of Lies” just didn’t do it for me.
The story starts off well enough with readers meeting Elizabeth Miles in the midst of a complicated con. These first few chapters started off so promising. This entire con, and the role that Elizabeth plays within it, is smart, snappy, and intriguing. She is presented as an independent and wily woman making her way through the world in maybe not the most ethical manner, but one that is definitely interesting to read about. And then the con goes wrong and she finds herself on the run, and suddenly caught up with a group of women protestors. And right away, the book went off the tracks for me.
While those first few chapters were short, they did a lot to convince me that Elizabeth was a heroine who was canny and had managed to make a life for herself in a way that is only accessible to the brave and street smart. But once she’s on the run, I immediately began questioning all of her decisions. Was getting arrested (and then shipped far, far away to another prison), really the best way to avoid goons chasing her down the street? I mean, I’ve seen “The Bourne Identity” probably more times than I should admit, so I’m all for the “get lost in the protestors” method of evasion. But notably, “go to prison and then buy into a hunger strike” is never a part of his plans. And if Bourne’s not doing it, neither should you!
Part of the problem was that I never became very interested in the women that Elizabeth meets here. I had to repeatedly page back to remind myself what was distinctive about each of them. And while, obviously, their protest movement is historically important, it just read as…blah. Which almost seems like a feat in and of itself.
I was also not digging the romance. This book seems to walk the line between many different genres (historical, mystery, romance), but isn’t fully committing to the common expectations of any of them. The romance was too chaste. The history was too plan. The con/mystery element fell to the way side (also the original book description on Goodreads is completely misleading , referencing Elizabeth chasing down a killer in D.C., which isn’t right at all).
While Thompson’s writing seems solid, this book simply didn’t seem to have much new to say or offer for any of the genres that it covers. And Elizabeth, who started strong, quickly fell into a character rife with confusion and unclear motivations. As I haven’t read Thompson’s other series, I can’t say if some of these complaints may just be that her writing style and storytelling choices just aren’t for me or whether this is an outlier from her previous books. Maybe some time I’ll pick up one of those and see, but this book lands solidly in the middle of the road for me. I didn’t hate it, but I also won’t remember it. For fans of Thompson, however, and perhaps those who like more chaste historical romances, this might be worth checking out?
Rating 5: In one word: bland.
“City of Lies” is a new title and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Most Anticipated Historical Mysteries for 2017.”
Find “City of Lies” at your library using WorldCat!