Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book review/giveaway: India Black: A Madam of Espionage Mystery, by Carol K. Carr

If you’re wary of reading yet another mystery that leads you through the gas-lit lanes of Victorian England on the trail of a nasty criminal, take heart. India Black’s jaded, sarcastic attitude just might cure you of your own.

The magnificent preface, narrated by the lady herself, should make you snap to attention, for India isn’t a lady at all – quite the contrary. “My name is India Black. I am a whore,” she begins, without apology. As she states, her account is neither a memoir of a young girl’s loss of innocence nor a titillating exposé of her bedroom encounters. It’s not really a mystery either, despite the subtitle. As an espionage caper winding through the grimy back alleys and political centers of London, though, it’s a very entertaining one, and the protagonist’s brassy voice carries it off with style. Culminating with a heart-pounding chase scene (on a sleigh, even!) across the snowy countryside, Carol K. Carr’s debut India Black is a thrillingly escapist read.

The atrocities committed by Turks against Christians in distant Bulgaria serve as the catalyst for the action, but if you haven’t heard anything about them, don’t worry – India hasn’t either. During the winter of 1876, she’s content to stick to what she knows: managing Lotus House, an exclusive brothel catering to London’s gentlemen. When the client she’s nicknamed “Bowser” kicks it during a visit to one of her girls, India sees trouble ahead. With the help of an enterprising street urchin, she carts his overlarge body towards the docks, “trussed like a birthday present,” where he’ll be found and identified the next day – and so his wife will be notified of his death. India’s not completely heartless, after all.

Unluckily, Bowser’s real name was Sir Archibald Latham, late of Her Majesty’s War Office. After the debonair spy named Mr. French catches them disposing of the corpse, he blackmails India into helping him find Latham’s portfolio, which contains documents the British need to keep out of Russian hands. India isn’t about to take things lying down. To save her livelihood, and to prevent an international incident, she agrees to help the Prime Minister, aka Dizzy, get the papers back.

Her pursuit of the thieves takes her from a formal dance ball at the Russian Embassy to the inner chambers of the British government, and wherever she goes, French isn’t far behind. The pair’s adventures are over-the-top – she rescues him as often as he rescues her – and with a reluctant attraction simmering between them, neither dares show any gratitude. India’s profession sometimes gets her in a bind, so to speak.  Her innuendo-filled intro to one scene made me wonder, with curious amusement, if the author really intended to go there. She does, and the result is hilarious.

Some thrillers pack on atmosphere like London’s streets pack on fog, and the ambiance has the required Dickensian feel when it needs to, but the highlight here is India’s sardonic sense of humor. A woman who displays her ample wit along with her décolletage, India has seen difficult times, and she’s a heroine you can’t help but root for. She can size up a man’s worth in seconds but lacks familiarity with the complicated tangle of international politics, not that that stops her. She also spouts an impressively vulgar vocabulary, though she's very well-read, and there are hints of other secrets lingering in her past. Her intriguing back story is one I’m sure will be worth uncovering in future volumes.

India Black is published this month by Berkley Prime Crime at $14.00 ($17.50 in Canada).  Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy on hand to give away to blog readers. Leave a comment on this post for your chance to win; deadline Friday, January 21st.  International entrants welcome.


  1. India Black sounds awesome! I'd love to win a copy.

  2. Sounds wonderful. Please enter me. Thank you
    kaiminani at gmail dot com

  3. OK, this sounds really interesting! I'd love to read it.

  4. Anonymous11:18 PM

    Hehe. She sounds like someone I could get along with (at least in a book). =)
    tiredwkids at live dot com

  5. This sounds EXACTLY like my kind of book. I write about the Victorian era!

  6. Aubree12:08 AM

    This sounds great! Enter me please!
    notyourstar11 at yahoo dot com

  7. Marie B.1:08 AM

    I've seen this reviewed a couple of different places now, and I'd love a copy! Already on the wishlist regardless.

    marie1200 at gmail dot com

  8. sounds like a great read--i'm in!

  9. I'd love a chance to win this book, thanks for having this contest! :-)

  10. This sounds like such a good book. I added it to my wish list a couple of months ago. I would love to win a copy. Thanks for the giveaway.

  11. The cover of this book was the first thing that caught my attention - it is beautiful! I haven't read too many of these gas-lit type books, but this one sounds awesome.

    I would love to be entered for the giveaway.


  12. Thanks for this review! I probably wouldn't have gone for this--assuming it was "just" a mystery--so I really appreciate you highlighting the story! Please enter me: hyalineblue079 at yahoo dot com. Thanks!

  13. Ashley8:59 AM

    The book sounds great. I would love a chance to win. Thank you for holding the contest

  14. Sounds like a great story. And a mystery as well...Bonus!

    I would love to get a chance to read it. :D

  15. Sarcastic Victorian? Sounds like my kind of book! Please do enter me. :)

  16. I'd love to win!
    Please enter me.

  17. I have read this book and it is definitely a keeper. India Black is probably one of the most original protagonists I have ever read. I'm looking forward to her next adventures.

  18. I've had this book on my wishlist since I first heard about it- glad to hear it is worth the read. I'd love to be entered in this giveaway.

  19. Love the cover and espionage mystery are great. Please enter me in this contest. Thank you for the


  20. Great review.

    I am seeing this one a lot at the moment and it has gone on my wishlist...but unfortunately we dont have a release date here in the UK yet.

    Please enter me for your giveaway, thank you for the opportunity,so many are for US postal addresses only.


  21. Count me in this contest. India Black sounds great!

  22. This sounds awesome. I would love to win it!


  23. Count me in, too! Sounds like a pageturner. Thanks!

    bnavta at gmail.com

  24. This sounds like such fun! Please enter me in the drawing!


  25. Sounds right up my alley :O) I'd love to read it, please add my name to the draw. Thank you.

  26. Michelle6:18 AM

    India Black sounds like our kind of girl! Thanks for giving your international readers a chance, please enter me

  27. Sounds like a book I could enjoy!!! Thanks for the great review; please enter me.
    brittmedanger at yahoo dot com

  28. Lynnd1:32 PM

    This sounds really intriguing. I'd love to win a copy.

  29. Shannon P.10:09 PM

    I have never seen or heard of this books before, but reading this review, you made me want to pick it up immediately.
    Thank you so much!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the review! Thanks!