In Tasha Alexander's novel The Counterfeit Heiress, after an odd encounter at a grand masquerade ball, Lady Emily becomes embroiled in the murder investigation of one of the guests, a sometime actress trying to pass herself off as the mysterious heiress and world traveler Estella Lamar. Each small discovery, however, leads to more questions. Was the intended victim Miss Lamar or the imposter? And who would want either of them dead?
As Emily and Colin try to make sense of all this, a larger puzzle begins to emerge: No one has actually seen Estella Lamar in years, since her only contact has been through letters and the occasional blurry news photograph. Is she even alive? Emily and Colin's investigation of this double mystery takes them from London to Paris, where, along with their friend Cécile, they must scour the darkest corners of the city in search of the truth.
In Alexander's puzzling ninth Victorian mystery (after 2013's Behind the Shattered Glass), Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband, Colin, investigate the stabbing murder of Mary Darby, a middle-aged woman who was posing as reclusive heiress Estella Lamar at a costume ball hosted by the Duke of Devonshire in London. The Hargreaves' quest for answers takes them to Paris, where their search for Estella becomes much more crucial than finding Mary's killer. The villain of the piece considers himself a basically decent man who had been overwhelmed by events, but he never feels like more than a shadowy presence. Alternating chapters relating Estella's story suggest a kidnapping, and more than a hint of mental illness. It helps to be familiar with the works of Dickens, to which there are frequent references, but most of the action seems like much ado about very little.