Earlier this week, I finished reading my first book of Quarter 2! Today, I am reviewing Cleopatra’s Dagger by Carole Lawrence, a historical fiction murder mystery. This is actually a brand new release, published on April 1st of this year!
As I mentioned in my April TBR post, this month I wanted to take a break from nonfiction for a bit and enjoy some good stories instead. As I browsed the Kindle Unlimited store, I started looking for interesting novels that had free audiobooks included, since listening along while I read the words helps me focus and immerse myself in the story better. I happened to stumble across Cleopatra’s Dagger and I was instantly intrigued by the beautiful cover art and the synopsis. Historical New York City, a murderer on the loose, ancient Egyptian lore, plus a free audiobook included? Sign me up!
“A journalist in nineteenth-century New York matches wits with a serial killer in a gripping thriller by the prizewinning author of the Ian Hamilton Mysteries.
New York, 1880. Elizabeth van den Broek is the only female reporter at the Herald, the city’s most popular newspaper. Then she and her bohemian friend Carlotta Ackerman find a woman’s body wrapped like a mummy in a freshly dug hole in Central Park—the intended site of an obelisk called Cleopatra’s Needle. The macabre discovery takes Elizabeth away from the society pages to follow an investigation into New York City’s darkest shadows.
When more bodies turn up, each tied to Egyptian lore, Elizabeth is onto a headline-making scoop more sinister than she could have imagined. Her reporting has readers spellbound, and each new clue implicates New York’s richest and most powerful citizens. And a serial killer is watching every headline.
Now a madman with an indecipherable motive is coming after Elizabeth and everyone she loves. She wants a good story? She may have to die to get it.”
Quoted from Goodreads
The story starts off slowly as you are introduced to Elizabeth van den Broek’s world and her role at the newspaper as a writer for the society pages. But once the first murder victim is discovered, the story really picks up the pace and becomes much more riveting.
Elizabeth seems to be stuck between two worlds. On the one hand, she wants to break barriers as the first female crime reporter at her newspaper, and she has progressive ideas about class divisions. On the other, she often gets stuck in old ways of thinking about femininity and social decorum, since she comes from a respectable and well-to-do European family. As she faces various hardships and scrutiny from others about her new role as a crime reporter, she starts to develop a deeper understanding of how women and those caught on the fringes of society are so often marginalized, and it fuels her passion to solve the mystery of these Egyptian-inspired murders.
What I Liked
First of all, I really loved the world-building. The author did a great job of setting the scene of 1880s New York City and she clearly did a lot of research about the typical attire, transportation, foods, and pastimes of the era. She also captured the diversity of the era, with so many people from different countries immigrating to New York during that time. I really liked her descriptions of the grittier neighborhoods and locales–they were not pleasant, to be sure, but they were very vivid and helped me imagine those scenes clearly.
I also loved how the author built up tension and paranoia leading up to the final reveal. After Elizabeth experiences a trauma, she starts to become wary of everyone around her. I could feel myself getting nervous and tense when she interacted with different characters, as I started to suspect everyone by the end of the book. The author also dropped lots of little details and hints throughout the book that could make you suspect almost anyone, so I really had very little idea of who the killer might be but lots of theories, which made it more fun for me.
This is unrelated to the author’s efforts, but I also really enjoyed the narration for the audiobook which was performed by Kate Rudd. I’m not very experienced with listening to audiobooks so it took me a few chapters to warm up to the narrator’s voice, but I was soon blown away by how many different voices and accents she was able to portray. With characters from England, Ireland, France, Germany, and other places, it must not have been an easy task. There were a few times I had to read without audio, but I went back and listened to those scenes again just so I could enjoy the narrator’s rendition with her many accents.
What I Didn’t
Without spoiling anything, I have to say I was really disappointed by the climactic reveal of the killer and the aftermath. While the final confrontation between Elizabeth and the killer was dramatic in its way, I wanted to hear more of the killer’s reasoning behind their actions. I also wanted more characters from earlier in the book to collide during the final scene to create even more action, but that didn’t happen either. Overall, it felt very rushed and I think it deserved more time. Also, during the final scene, a certain character’s actions were really unbelievable and nonsensical to me, which ruined the ending as well as the aftermath when everything gets wrapped up. What happened was too implausible for me to feel satisfied with the way things ended.
Another thing I didn’t like was Elizabeth’s romantic storyline. It was kind of lukewarm throughout. I also hoped that Elizabeth might develop feelings for another certain character to complicate things, but it never came to fruition. I’ll just have to enjoy imagining what might’ve happened in an alternate reality if things had gone my way.
My Star Rating
I really enjoyed the world-building and the suspenseful atmosphere, but I was too disappointed by the ending to give this book more than three stars. If the final climax and aftermath scenes were handled differently, I definitely would have given this book at least four stars.
Even though the ending was not to my taste, I still really enjoyed my reading experience and I would recommend it. I’m curious to see how others feel about the ending and I would love to discuss it with other readers! You can find Cleopatra’s Dagger by Carole Lawrence here.
Thanks for reading!