Caro Peacock's A Dangerous Affair is the follow-up to A Foreign Affair. Liberty Lane is adjusting to life on her own in Victorian England. Her father has died and her brother is away working for the East India Company. Liberty teaches music lessons to make her living, obviously not a well-to-do living. But, she is able to luxuriate in her morning rides on her beautiful horse Rancie, a final gift from her father. Even this joy she knows she will soon have to part with because she will not be able to afford Rancie much longer.
Daniel Suter is a close family friend. So when he is completely devastated by the arrest and conviction of his love, Jenny Jarvis, for a murder Liberty is convinced Jenny is innocent of, Liberty sets out to prove Jenny's innocence. But time is short. Liberty has about two weeks before they will hang Jenny from the gallows.
From page 1 of A Dangerous Affair, I felt as though I was stepping back into a Dickensian London. The novel opens in the jail cells of the Old Bailey with Daniel and Liberty having to pay off the gaoler to gain admittance to see Jenny following her trial and conviction. Daniel and Liberty obviously don't fit in, but they also appear to be of higher stature than they actually are, thus introducing a major theme of the novel: appearances.
The relationships of the characters in this novel have a hint of Dickens in them as well. There are of course the shallow characters focused solely on money and position; they were devoted to material possessions. But for those who valued the people in their lives more than money, there was completely selfless devotion; no false appearances. Sometimes an attempt at such devotion in characters can come across as forced, unbelievable, but Peacock's development of her characters made this devotion occur perfectly natural.
Liberty is a wonderful heroine. She's making the best of the situation she's been forced into by fate. She's a smart character and while she'll test the boundaries of propriety at times, she doesn't behave contradictory to society's mores. She does find them quite silly at times, but she isn't the rebel.
I have to say I was most taken with Amos Legge who works in the livery stable and takes Liberty out riding on Rancie. His position allows him to be "in the know" on all the gossip of London's wealthy. There is a slight mystery to Amos, but his devotion to Liberty is his most attractive quality. Another rather intriguing character is Lady Silverdale, a woman of wealth, but not deceiving appearances. Her devotion is to her family and her science. Lady Silverdale likes predictability, which science provides her, but her family deprives her of!
The depth and dimension of Peacock's characters makes Victorian London come alive on the pages. And her poetic language builds the stage on which they perform:
...my spirits sank at the solidity of the walls holding Jenny and the flimsiness of hope...the courthouse had been rebuilt in my grandfather's time - but it felt as bleak as if centuries of misery were climbing out of the ground and up its walls, like damp stains.
And perform they do. The plot is full of twists and turns, and I was definitely in the dark until almost the very end. Peacock gives the reader clues along the way, and you know they are clues, but how those clues fit together is the ultimate puzzle.
A Dangerous Affair is a romantic look at selfless relationships. I wasn't ready for A Dangerous Affair to end, but the conclusion led me to believe that this isn't the "end" for Liberty Lane. I'll be keeping my eyes open for this fascinating "problem solver" to resurface again in the future.
A Dangerous Affair will be released in the United States January 27, 2009, by Avon (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers).