Lady of Ashes

Christine Trent. Kensington, $15 trade paper (384) ISBN 978-0-7582-6591-3

A most unusual heroine—an undertaker in 1860s London—drives this capable first in a new series from historical fiction author Trent (By the King’s Design). Violet Morgan and her husband, Graham, of whose prosperous funeral business she’s the backbone, quarrel after Violet takes in an abandoned orphan. Her indifferent housekeeping also puts a strain on the marriage. When Graham is caught smuggling goods to Civil War–torn America, he must flee England. Meanwhile, Violet notices puzzling causes of death among the corpses she lays out. As her queries in these unusual cases unwittingly alarm a serial killer, she finds unexpected support from Prince Albert, Queen Victoria, and Samuel Harper “of the Confederate States of America,” a “Buyer of Special Goods.” That the murders play a minimal role in the story may disappoint mystery readers, but the author’s painstaking research offers a tale rich with historical incidents and details that period lovers relish. Romance gives the book most of its tension. Agent: Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary. (Mar.)