New Book – A Lady in the Smoke by Karen Odden (Chapters 1-11)

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Publishing year: 2016

This new book is set in 1874.

The main character is Lady Elizabeth Fraser, the daughter of an earl. She and her mother are coming back from London after being at a ball as part of the season where single ladies find the man to marry. It is the third season for Elizabeth, but in the last party things haven’t gone right. She heard some rumours about her finances slimming, and that is why hardly anybody asked her to dance. Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother abandoned the ball humiliated, and back in her rooms Lady Fraser lashes at Elizabeth, telling her that it is all her fault and she should have chosen a husband when she could, and now she was ruined and in the future she would have to be depended on relatives when nobody wanted her.

Then the following day mother and daughter take the train home, and then the train has an accident. A man helps Elizabeth and her mother to get off the train, which is burning, and when they are in the middle of the field, a surgeon helps her with her mother and he stitches her forehead that has a nasty cut. Then Elizabeth faints, and the next thing she knows she is in a hotel. Her mother is sleeping in the room, and she ventures outside the room. She is told that the surgeon is helping other passengers in the kitchen, and since nobody is helping him, Elizabeth volunteers to give him a hand. When they are done, they move to a private living room. The surgeon’s name is Paul Wilcox, and Elizabeth tells him her name, but she fails to tell him that she is the daughter of an earl since somehow she wants to be treated as a person and not as a title. Paul and Elizabeth talk about her mother, and the doctor has discovered that Lady Fraser is addicted to laudanum, and he tells Elizabeth that they need to be careful as it is not possible to wean her off, so he gives Elizabeth instructions to look after her mother.

When he leaves, Elizabeth overhears him talking to a man called Tom, and they mention a man called Michael being in danger, and someone called Palmer who was thrown off a train. Elizabeth doesn’t know what to think, but she tells herself that it is none of her business. As days go by, Paul visits Lady Fraser, who remains stable but is unresponsive. Elizabeth sends for a nurse who will look after her mother, and when Jane, the nurse, tells her that people are gossiping and she should spend time alone with an unmarried man like Paul Wilcox. Elizabeth is angry because we know that Elizabeth likes Paul a bit too much.

When Paul visits her next, she finally asks him about what she overheard that night, and Paul, who is now on first name terms with Elizabeth, tells her that they suspect that a man has been killed and another is in danger as both of them, who are railway inspectors, noticed that the conditions of the railway were bad in some parts because of erosion, but their reports were ignored, and now there has been an accident. Then the man she saw Paul with appears,  and Elizabeth learns that Tom Flynn is the editor of a London newspaper. He explains the rest to Elizabeth, and soon there will be a hearing in the parliament, and they expect some developments.

The next time Elizabeth sees Tom Flynn, he is alone, and the first thing he does is to call he by her title. Elizabeth knows that she has been caught in her half-lie, and the man is angry because he feels Elizabeth has been misleading Paul, and she tries to explain her reasons to him, and she promises to tell Paul the next time she sees him. In this encounter Tom and Elizabeth talk about many things. One of them is about her friend Anne Reynolds and her family, who have to abscond to Scotland after another newspaper published a story about Anne’s brother having been found in an opium den and accusing him of being a drug addict and a sodomite. Elizabeth explains that the whole story is fake as Anne’s brother only went to the opium den to get a friend out of it. Then Tom gives her some more revelations. It seems that after analysing the railway in the area of the accident it seems that natural effects of the river erosion have not caused the accident, but apparently the bolts have been removed, so it appears that the accident has bee intentional.

Tom also tells her that her late father had shares in the railway company and that is why her finances are at risk now because the company is losing money. The explanation that follows is wordy and complex, but what Tom asks Elizabeth is to help him, and the only thing she can tell him is that there is a neighbour that his father didn’t like. That man is Lord Shaw, and Elizabeth is going to try to talk to the man.

Later that day Paul appears, and he has also learnt who Elizabeth is as he saw her uncle in London who asked after her and Lady Fraser. Paul is stiff with her, and when he examines Lady Fraser, he tells her that they can go home now, which they will do later. Then Elizabeth goes after Paul and tries to explain why she hid who she is, but she doesn’t tell him the real reason, which is that she is attracted to him and she wants him to like her for herself. Now she knows that society rules will keep them away, and she will lose him, and maybe this will have the last time she sees him. As he bids her goodbye, Elizabeth feels like crying. I have the hunch they will meet again, and I bet their story won’t finish here.

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