Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Book Review: City of Betrayal by Victoria Thompson (Counterfeit Lady Mysteries #7)

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: Did get pulled into the story a few times
Cons: Tries to cover too much history to be a good novel
The Bottom Line:
Witness history
Little fiction to be found
Makes for weak novel

Observing the War of the Roses

Historical fiction authors have to walk a fine line – incorporate history without letting history get in the way of an interesting plot.  That gets even harder for those who write historical mysteries.  I’ve enjoyed so many books from Victoria Thompson across both of her series that I’m a little surprised to find that she messed up the balance with City of Betrayal.

This is the seventh book in her Counterfeit Lady series, which features mostly reformed conwoman Elizabeth Bates.  Ever since she met Gideon, her now husband, she’s been trying to walk the straight and narrow, only occasionally getting involved in a con to help a friend in need.  She’s also gotten involved in the fight for women’s suffrage, and that’s what propels her in this book.

It's August of 1920, and the fight to ratify the nineteenth amendment giving women the right to vote has come down to Tennessee.  Everyone thinks that, among the states that haven’t voted on it yet, the best chance to pass it will be here.  Elizabeth and her mother-in-law have been asked to go to Tennessee and help with the lobbying of state representatives to get it passed.  Gideon joins them as well.  When the three arrive, they quickly see the sea of various color roses, those for and against ratification.  But can they do anything to make a difference in the vote?

I picked up this book not knowing anything beyond the title.  That’s how much I usually enjoy the author’s books.  But I didn’t think anything of it when I realized we were leaving the series’ normal New York City setting.  After all, women’s suffrage has been a thread through the entire series, so it makes sense that the passing of the nineteenth amendment would feature heavily in a book in the series.  I looked forward to seeing how Elizabeth and her exploits would impact history.

And I waited.  And waited.

I think the problem was that, instead of focusing on one thing and building a fictional story around that part of the fight for ratification, the author became fascinated by all the history she learned doing her research, and she wanted to give us a flavor of everything that was happening during the two weeks we spend there.  But the result is a book with a very loose central plot to hang some stories on.  We get something that comes up and takes 30 pages here.  Then another incident comes up and the characters focus on it for 20 pages.  There were several of those, and I found them interesting.  But it wasn’t enough to hang an entire book on.  Especially since we had some rather repetitive scenes between events as Elizabeth spent time lobbying.

Several of the supporting characters wound up showing up as the book went along.  I kept expecting them to make an impact or become involved in what would become a main plot.  Instead, they were reduced to cameos and a sub-plot that didn’t really add anything to the book since it went nowhere.

Even the main characters seemed like shallow versions of themselves, more there to guide us through history than being themselves.

And this isn’t to say I didn’t get caught up in the events of the book at times.  Again, my interest ebbed and flowed as I was reading.  Even knowing the ultimate outcome, I was pulled in waiting to see how it would turn out because this wasn’t a simple story by any means.  But that history lesson wasn’t what I was looking for when I picked up this novel.

Given the subject matter, I assume this is a blip from the author.  I already have the next in her Gaslight Mystery series preordered and I’m looking forward to it.  If you are a fan of this series, pick up City of Betrayal with the right expectations, and you might be entertained.  But it isn’t the best from the author.

Get conned into reading the rest of the Counterfeit Lady Mysteries.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.


  1. I really loved the first book in this series but have been enjoying it less and less with each new book. I think I'll pass on this one.

  2. Some times you really can just see the research being crammed into the story and it can be very jarring!

    Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge!


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