About the Book
The Brontë sisters’ first poetry collection has just been published, potentially marking an end to their careers as amateur detectors, when Anne receives a letter from her friend Lydia Robinson.
Lydia has eloped with a young actor, Harry Roxby, and following her disinheritance, the couple been living in poverty in London. Harry has become embroiled with a criminal gang and is in terrible danger after allegedly losing something very valuable that he was meant to deliver to their leader. The desperate and heavily pregnant Lydia has a week to return what her husband supposedly stole, or he will be killed. She knows there are few people who she can turn to in this time of need, but the sisters agree to help Lydia, beginning a race against time to save Harry’s life.
In doing so, our intrepid sisters come face to face with a terrifying adversary whom even the toughest of the slum-dwellers are afraid of…The Red Monarch.
Format: Hardcover (352 pages) Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 18th November 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery
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In The Red Monarch the Brontë sisters, along with their brother Branwell, leave their beloved Yorkshire Moors for the much less salubrious streets of Victorian London. As well as viewing it as a mission of mercy there is also, they have to admit, the thrill of having a new case to investigate and the prospect of ‘adventure aplenty and fiendishly difficult riddles to be solved’. Sounds good to me, and so it turns out.
Charlotte, as the last surviving sister, is once again given the role of custodian of the accounts of their hitherto unknown adventures as ‘lady detectorists’. There is a poignant moment in the book when Anne reassures Charlotte, ‘We shall always be at your side, irritating your every thought always, I swear it’ causing Charlotte to shudder ‘as if someone had just walked over her grave… an unwelcome message delivered from an uncertain future’.
As in the two previous books – The Vanished Bride and The Diabolical Bones – the individual characters of the siblings are carefully drawn. Indeed, the sisters themselves recognise one another’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their role as investigators of crime. Anne’s gift, in Charlotte’s words, is ‘to intuit revelations that are invaluable’, whilst Anne praises Charlotte’s ‘bravery and cleverness’. Emily is the adventurer of the trio, as she soon proves. And Branwell? Well, he comes in useful as a protector when he’s able to lift himself from his current melancholy state, the result of an unsuccessful (real life) love affair.
The bond between the sisters is touching, Charlotte declaring at one point ‘we are never alone when we have one another’. Their other shared passion is, of course, writing although at this point in their lives they are yet to write the novels that will make them famous and are eagerly awaiting the first review of their volume of poetry. Every author knows what that’s like! In one memorable scene Charlotte encounters a famous (male) writer who is dismissive of her literary ambitions. Fortunately, she receives a more sympathetic and encouraging response from a female novelist quite famous in her day but now, I suspect, little known. The said lady novelist proves a useful ally as well.
I had fun spotting allusions to people or places in the Brontë sisters’ novels, including one which refers to a misreading of the title of one of the sister’s poems. Full disclosure: I had to Google that one and I’m sure there were others that I missed! Such references demonstrate the author’s extensive knowledge of, and obvious affection for, the Brontës and their works, as well as acting as little gifts for the observant reader.
Of course there is also an intriguing mystery to be solved that involves Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell exploring ‘the dark and undoubtedly dangerous underworld of the grimmest and most violent parts of the city’. I’ll say. What they uncover is a web of evil and depravity that reaches into the highest echelons of society.
The Red Monarch is another terrific instalment in what has become one of my favourite historical mystery series. It’s a book (and a series) I can highly recommended for fans of historical mysteries or of the Brontës.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. You can read more reviews of The Red Monarch by following the book bloggers taking part in the blog tour, such as this review by Steph at Steph’s Book Blog or this one by Eva at Novel Deelights.
In three words: Intriguing, suspenseful, atmospheric
Try something similar: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
About the Author
Rowan Coleman is the Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author of sixteen novels including the Richard and Judy pick The Memory Book and the Zoe Ball bookclub choice, The Summer of Impossible Things.
Rowan also writes the Brontë Mysteries under the name Bella Ellis, a series that imagines that before they were world renowned novelists the Bronte sisters were amateur sleuths. These include The Vanished Bride, The Diabolical Bones and The Red Monarch with more on the way in 2022. (Photo: Goodreads/Bio: Author website)