Jane Kamensky, Author, Jill Lepore, Author . Spiegel & Grau $24.95 (500p) ISBN 978-0-385-52619-7

Professors Kamensky and Lepore try for playful historical romance, but deliver instead a novel that is, if rich in period detail, also overwrought, predictably plotted and at times embarrassingly purple. The year is 1764 and portrait painter Stewart Jameson has been chased by debtors from his native Scotland to Boston, where he quickly opens shop and takes an apprentice, the half-starved orphan, Francis Weston, who turns out to be Fanny Easton, the disgraced daughter of one of Boston’s leading citizens. Stewart does a good business with Boston’s better class, which puts Stewart and Fanny in a good position to solve the murder of an abolitionist. They are joined at this task by Stewart’s old friend from Edinburgh, Dr. Ignatius Alexander, a university-trained runaway slave. The mystery plays out with little surprise; rather, the narrative is driven by Alexander’s hatred of slavery and by Stewart and Fanny’s tawdry relationship. Unfortunately, however, both of these lines prove awkward, and while students of the era may find enough period detail to carry them through, the cheesy plot and facile characterizations are likely to turn off most readers. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 08/04/2008
Release date: 12/01/2008
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