Published by William Morrow on November 6, 2018
Source: the publisher
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This dazzling new Victorian mystery from USA Today bestselling author Karen Odden introduces readers to Nell Hallam, a determined young pianist who stumbles upon the operations of a notorious—and deadly—crime ring while illicitly working as the piano player in a Soho music hall. Perfect for readers of Tasha Alexander, Anne Perry, and Deanna Raybourn.
Nineteen-year-old Nell Hallam lives in a modest corner of Mayfair with her brother Matthew, an inspector at Scotland Yard. An exceptionally talented pianist, she aspires to attend the Royal Academy; but with tuition beyond their means, Nell sets out to earn the money herself—by playing piano in a popular Soho music hall. And the fact that she will have to disguise herself as a man and slip out at night to do it doesn’t deter her.
Spending evenings at the Octavian is like entering an alternate world, one of lively energy, fascinating performers, raucous patrons—and dark secrets. And when Nell stumbles upon the operations of an infamous crime ring working in the shadows of the music hall, she is drawn into a conspiracy that stretches the length of London. To further complicate matters, she has begun to fall for the hall owner's charismatic son, Jack, who has secrets of his own.
The more Nell becomes a part of the Octavian’s world, the more she risks the relationships with the people she loves. And when another performer is left for dead in an alley as a warning, she realizes her future could be in jeopardy in more ways than one.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’m a little bit new-ish to reading historical mysteries, but I’m really loving them right now. When given the opportunity to read A Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden, I jumped on it because I liked the synopsis plus I also saw that it was being described as “perfect” for fans of Anne Perry. And I did enjoy this story so much. I love pretty much anything Victorian London, and I think the story’s leading lady Nell Hallam is just fiery and fun.
Nell Hallam loves to play piano more than anything. She’s incredibly gifted already, but her dream is to attend the Royal Academy for further instruction, and she has an audition coming up. To save money for the Academy’s tuition, Nell has been secretly playing piano three nights a week at a music hall called the Octavian. She does this by dressing up as a boy (because male pianists make more money, boo!) and playing the accompaniments for the music hall’s main performers. Then she gets herself back home before anyone knows that she has been out. Nell lives along with her brother Matthew, an investigator with Scotland Yard, and he definitely would not approve if he knew what she was doing. Also, the Octavian isn’t the nicest establishment out there, and its location isn’t the best and safest. Nell isn’t treated the best and she is aware of the danger, but she is committed to making her dream come true.
Nell learns that her brother is investigating a series of missing persons and murders that have been occurring not too far from the Octavian. YES, she knows the risk and the danger of walking there and back late at night, but the tuition money is important to her and she is extra careful. Because Nell starts paying a little more attention to her surroundings, she learns that the people around her at work may be involved with the missing people and murders. The more she learns, the more it starts to look like a very large, complex gang-like set-up.
To complicate everything – because the heart always does – Nell has taken a liking to the owner’s son, Jack Drummond. And Jack likes her too. So of course, she must find out if Jack is involved in anything sinister which makes her have more secrets, makes her more deeply involved, and makes the danger to her far greater.
This book was F-U-N, fun. There were so many things that I liked about it. It seems like the past historical mysteries that I have read (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt by Anne Perry) limit the female characters with what they’re allowed to do. Propriety and all. But Nell comes across as more of a firecracker, and I loved that.
Nell is a girl that wants things. She’s had a tough start, losing both of her parents – I’ll let you all figure out how that happens when you read the story, because it really ties into so much of her decision-making. Nell is very close to her brother, Matthew, which I love. There is so much mutual admiration and respect there. He gives her the space to be herself and he admires her intellect and desire for more. But what I love most about Nell is this determination to figure out things for herself and make things happen on her own. She wants to go to school? Sure, she’ll get the tuition on her own, even if she has to dress like a guy and keep secrets to make it happen. The guy that she likes may have some shady connections? Okay, that’s not so great, so she’ll figure out more about him on her own. I have to admit that some of her actions put her in danger. And there were a few things that she did that made me think “What are you doing, Nell!? This could SO backfire on you, girl!” But she really made this a fun read for me and I think that the circle of people that she kept around her were fantastic.
Speaking of her circle, the characters in here are great. This cast ranges from terrible people to great people, and I loved that there were several of both kinds. Some of these characters were questionable to me until closer toward the end, and some were very clearly good/bad right away. The thing that I loved most about them all was that I could very distinctly and easily visualize them, and they were all very different.
I also loved this setting. I feel like it helped the characters stand out to me. I love the dirty, gritty, foggy feel of 1875 London, and I love the shady and dark backdrop of the Octavian music hall. Both were vivid in my mind as I read, which made it easy for the cast to move around and create what felt like a movie in my head. I loved it.
I was excited to see how everything would play out for Nell, but also for a few other characters. I wanted to see what happens with Nell’s audition, what happens with the crime ring that operates within the Octavian and would this also implicate Nell since she is employed there, what would happen when Matthew finds out Nell is secretly employed there, and WHAT ABOUT JACK and his possible involvement and their potential romance? I had so many questions.
For me, the best thing about this book is the cast. They are so, so fun and fantastic. I enjoyed reading them so much, even the bad guys. I think fans of historical mystery stories would love this, especially those that may have a particular interest in music. I would love to read more from Ms. Odden. This is exactly the type of story that I’m looking for when I get that itch for a good historical mystery.