Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Alexandria Affair by Ashley Gardner

First Sentence:  In late August, 1818, my wife had me abducted, trussed up, and taken down the Thames to be put on a tall ship bound for Egypt.
            
Rather than having him underfoot, Captain Gabriel Lacey's pregnant wife has packed him off to Egypt with his friend, the wealthy and admired Lord Granville, and staff.  It's not exclusively a pleasure trip as Lacey owes favours to crime lord James Denis and is constantly watched over by Brewster.  As part of his payment to Denis, Lacey has been asked to locate and procure an ancient papyrus, said to be in the hands of a treasurer hunter's widow.  Can Lacey fulfill the task without being killed by the mysterious man similar enough to be his twin, and who has tried to kill him twice before?
            
What a delightful opening.  Gardner very skillfully presents to us the cast of characters their backgrounds and relationships in a very easy manner, told in first person by the protagonist.  It is also nice that her dialogue has the feel of the period, without being heavy handed--"I'd been a pathetic wretch when I'd departed Lisbon four years ago."-and the first-person narrative is natural with just the right touch of humor--"I hadn't taken off my galabiya, being perfectly comfortable inside it.   Bartholomew, however had said that if I wanted to look as though I rushed about in a nightshirt, to please tell no one he dressed me."

Discussions of archaeological discoveries and newly advanced scientific theories solidify the sense of time, and the detailed description more than crate the sense of place. However, it is unfortunate that Gardner is prone to including completely unnecessary portents.
            
Removing the story from England and moving it to Egypt provides delightful opportunities to see the characters out of their comfortable element.  For Lacey, who spent time in the army and is fascinated by new places and cultures, it's an adventure.  For Granville, who travels in luxury, it's rather England transported.  For bodyguard Brewster, and staff Bartholomew and his twin brother, Mathias, they'd as soon be in England, thank you--"Not what we're used to," Bartholomew said apologetically. "They don't much understand an Englishman's breakfast, these servants.  And in the middle of preparing it, there's a man yelling, and the rush away to start bobbing on their carpets." However, Gardner does make note of this being a time when foreigners traveled to Egypt in order to find treasures and remove them to museums and private collections outside of Egypt. 
            
Lacey is a compelling character and one who is fully developed--"You're soft, Captain..Soft and yet more ruthless than any man I ever clapped eyes on."  The relationship between Lacey and Granville is so well conveyed.  In spite of their differences in rank and wealth, there is a true friendship filled with mutual respect.  Gardner's wonderful descriptions place you next to Lacey so that you see and feel what he does.  Yet Gardner doesn't allow one to become too comfortable as danger erupts suddenly and brutally. 
            
"The Alexandria Affair" is a wonderful balance of a foreign setting, good suspense and heart-pounding action.  

THE ALEXANDRIA AFFAIR (Hist Mys-Capt. Gabriel Lacey-Egypt - 1800s) - VG
Gardner, Ashley (aka Jennifer Ashley) - 11th in series
JA/AG Publishing - May 2016

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