Dee Garretson’s THE GARGOYLE IN THE SEINE is a complex and vividly written mystery. Victorian era Paris is such an appealing setting and Garretson brings it alive with many references to famous Parisian landmarks. Her main character, Clary Ashton, is a likeable, strong heroine who breaks the mold of the many expectations and restraint expected of Victorian women. As an artist, she has a sharp eye and pays attention to details. These traits also serve her well when she becomes embroiled in a mystery after seeing a fellow art student, Liam Donovan, fall from an embankment into the Seine River. A strange man nearby makes her wonder whether Liam fell or was pushed. As Clary looks for her own answers to the mystery surrounding Liam’s death, she becomes entangled with an interesting cast of characters, including fellow art students and handsome English spy, Reese Tretheway.
The story’s many layers include the vanguard realm of French impressionist artists, military tensions between England and Russia, and the dangerous and intriguing world of international espionage. Through it all, Clary proves to be a determined, resourceful and fearless heroine as well as a talented amateur investigator. She’s a perfect match for Reese, though the attraction between the two characters is never fully developed. This was my only real frustration with the story, as I was left tantalized by their interaction and wishing for much more.
This story managed to be complicated and yet fast paced, with a richly woven mystery and a wonderfully strong-willed heroine. THE GARGOYLE IN THE SEINE whetted my appetite and left me eager to read Dee Garretson’s next Victorian mystery.
Art student Clary Ashton can’t imagine a more perfect spot to study painting than Paris in the spring of 1878, until she witnesses a body thrown into the Seine, the body of Liam Heaton, another art student whose claims to be without money or family never rang true. What Clary thinks is murder becomes much more as Liam’s secrets come to light and his identity is revealed. When Clary’s own brother falls under suspicion for Liam's death, she is desperate to clear him, but as she delves deeper into the murky underworld and the glittering salons of the city, she finds caught between two dangerous men- a political extremist days away from a royal assassination, and the young intrepid British secret agent, Reese Tretheway, who is determined to stop him.
Clary, brought up like a gypsy in the wilds of America, finds her skills at roasting lizards and hunting rabbits little use in seeing behind the treacherous sophistication of both Reese and of those who hold the key to Liam’s death. Reese manages to hunt revolutionaries without ever wrinkling his evening clothes or revealing his own secrets, all of which Clary finds maddening. When Clary realizes she knows too much and has become a target of the revolutionaries, she and Reese have to find a way to tolerate each other long enough to save Clary's brother and try to stop the assassination, or face the possibility of losing their own lives.