India Black, by Carol K. Carr

Carol K. Carr's debut novel India Black doesn't actually make that much sense, but when a book is as breezily stylish as this one, being a little short on substance is totally forgivable.

India Black is running at full speed by the end of the first chapter. It's the winter of 1876, and when a War Office official dies during a visit to one of London's many brothels, madam India Black is hell-bent on disposing of his body as discreetly as possible. Unfortunately, the dead man was carrying important documents, and the prostitute he was “visiting” turns out to be a Russian spy, so when the mysterious Mr. French—a spy for the Prime Minister—encounters India during her body-dumping mission, he blackmails her into recovering the missing papers.

There are plot holes in India Black big enough to drive a truck through, starting with the very first scene: why does the prostitute/Russian spy bother to tell India about the War Office official's death at all? The woman's (fake, as it turns out) hysterics are darkly funny and the scene establishes India as a character who keeps calm in a crisis, but why wouldn't the spy simply disappear, giving herself a head start and leaving India to, er, clean up the mess? And this is only the beginning of the story's problems: the majority of the novel revolves around India, French, and India's street urchin pal Vincent's various schemes to recover the documents, all of which are simultaneously poorly thought-out and unnecessarily elaborate.

None of this, however, prevented me from charging through Ms. Carr's book in a single sitting. The charm of India Black comes almost entirely from its heroine, whose utterly pragmatic approach to life is evident in everything from her career (“One thing I learned at an early age is a stimulated gentleman is a profligate gentleman”) to her battles with the story's various Russian and British secret agents. India's past remains a mystery, but her present goal is as clear as it is commendable: she doesn't want to take any crap from anybody. She's a delightfully unapologetic protagonist, and I'm eagerly looking forward to reading more of her adventures.
Posted by: Julianka


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