India Black (Madam of Espionage, #1)India Black by Carol K. Carr
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

1.5 was my actual rating. I found this book to be very, very aggravating.

My name is India Black. I am a whore.

And thus started what I was sure would be a fantastic read. Perhaps my expectations were too high. But, immediately India’s frankness and first person narrative drew me in. I liked her style. She had wit and sarcasm and didn’t feel the need to make excuses, allowances, or apologies for the life she lived. She was a well-developed character with moxy. I loved her. In fact, I enjoyed all of the characters and character development in this novel.

There was French, the secret agent for Her Majesty’s government that held India’s leash…well as much as anyone can for a wise cracking Madam.

He was a handsome devil, if you café for cold grey eyes, swarthy skin, blue-black hair, and aristocratic mien, through good looks and hereditary holdings never have impressed me.

French was deep. He always had an ace up his sleeve (or down his trousers) that no one knew about. He was dedicated, cunning, and extremely mysterious. A perfect secret agent, really.

Vincent, the street urchin with a loyalty toward India (although that doesn’t stop him from filching her fine cigars) and an ability to get any job done. He also has an uncanny knack for getting into places and going unnoticed. He ends up saving the day more than once, mostly because his curiosity and loyalty won’t allow him to be left out.

Osaka and Ivanovo are the two Russian agents. There characters appeal to the sneaky and slimy underbelly that government conspiracy theorists love to talk about. Both are clever with a knack for survival.

The idea grabbed me: a brothel madam who has a government official die on her premises; and is blackmailed by Her Majesty’s secret agents into helping get back what was taken from him before it is too late. The setting is Victorian Era Europe.

The world building was okay, although nothing spectacular. It showed the reader the seedy underbelly of politics in the Victorian era, even though it didn’t really go into detail on any aspect. The author was very much into “show” rather than “tell”, which I appreciated.

So now you are thinking, ” Katelyn, you haven’t given one reason for your “okay” rating. Or the fact it took you days to finish when normally two days is the most a book may take you.” Two words: no point. There was absolutely no point to the plot. There was an intrigue that initially required government to blackmail the proprietor of our whore house, the very same India Black, into doing the government’s business. However, that part of the story was over with in quick fashion (by the 30% mark according to my Kindle) and the rest of the novel we are aggravated with the lack of motivation. By the 70% mark, I was frustrated and put the novel down for a day or so.

I almost didn’t finish. There was no motivation for India to continue to involve herself in the schemes. In fact, on more than one occasion she was told to “butt out” in so many words. Even India’s character stated time and again that she didn’t know why she kept involving herself. And then there was the fact that the characters were never allowed to “win”, so to speak. Every time the English got the upper hand, a few pages later the Russian’s pulled a surprise attack that left them on top. And, vice versa. It just kept going. It was a rhetorical ping pong match with the reader being tossed back and forth. The ending was a stalemate and quite a disappointment.

Ultimately, I loved the characters but found the plot extremely disappointing. Ping pong has never been my game. I ended debates succinctly during my time in competitions and was known for not mincing words or objectives. This book just tried my patience.