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The Blackstone Key: A Novel Paperback – August 5, 2008

4 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Mary Finch Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Melikan's lively, intelligent debut, set in England in 1795, genteel Mary Finch welcomes the chance to escape Mrs. Bunbury's academy, where she teaches young ladies, and visit White Ladies, her wealthy uncle Edward's Suffolk estate. En route, the unconventional Mary, who has a strong interest in the law, meets a dying stranger who in best gothic fashion gives her a mysterious warning. At White Ladies, Mary hopes to resolve some conflict between her father and her uncle, but soon becomes embroiled in smuggling intrigue. The unusual men she encounters include West Indian planter Paul Déprez, who fled to England after the French overran his plantation, and Captain Holland, an impoverished artillery officer. In the end, Mary must use her intuition to assess the motives of the people around her—and her special knowledge to try to upset a French plot. Readers will eagerly look forward to the second and third volumes in this historical trilogy. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

Mary Finch’s visit to a previously estranged uncle she has never met sets her on an adventure involving espionage and murder in this first volume of a trilogy starting in England in 1795. By the time she arrives at Edward Finch’s Suffolk estate, Finch has died, leaving Mary, a teacher at a girls’ school for three years after being orphaned at 17, the presumed heir. With the help of Captain Robert Holland, an ordnance officer who becomes her protector, Mary sets about decoding mysterious papers found in her uncle’s library, using Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England as the key. Suddenly, she becomes a key player in a treasonous plot. Attracted to cultured West Indian Paul Deprez and to the rougher Holland, both of whom seem to be implicated in the scheme, Mary must deduce who is the real traitor. With a prose style true to its times and a plucky heroine (whose fortunes are left in question), Melikan should win fans for this and the succeeding volumes, due in 2009 and 2010. --Michele Leber

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; First Edition edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416560807
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416560807
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,088,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rose Melikan was born in Detroit, Michigan. Since 1993, she has been a Fellow of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. Her academic research centers on 18th and early 19th British political and constitutional history. She lives in Cambridge, England with her husband.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
but not great either.

This is, to the best of my knowledge, Rose Melikan's first foray into fiction, and she does a good job. Mostly.

This period piece is centered around the Napoleonic war timeframe (although a bit before), and features a fair amount of intrigue. I would say a significant amount of intrigue, but the characters are all pretty transparent. The good guy is obviously the good guy and the bad guy is obviously the bad guy. There is nothing too surprising here.

Others say that it is a well-crafted period piece. I don't know how to take that, honestly. There are no obvious signs of anachronisms, like digital wristwatches, but there are a good number of times where I sat and wondered whether an eighteenth century woman (even near the turn of the century) would sit still for such language, let alone be flattered by the men who use it.

The characters are, otherwise, spot on for their time period, and it is an entertaining enough story, although it is simply amazing that the cryptography on the part of the official gendarmes is so frightfully bad that a young woman with what is described as a child's imagination can discover what trained inspectors cannot. Further, the intuition hinted at on the part of young Mary Finch is sometimes simply eye-crossing in its breaking of the fourth wall.

For the most part, entertaining, although there are certainly egregious flaws in certain places. Recommended only for period buffs. Mystery fans should stay away.


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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Most of the historical fiction, that I read, is related to the medieval period. This book had an interesting premise, so I thought to give it a try. I was not disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish.

The heroine, Mary Finch, is extremely likable. She is intelligent. She enjoys reading & learning about things that women of her time were not supposed to be interested in. She has an inquisitive nature & is very perceptive, which makes her a good detective. She also has an active imagination, which tends to cause problems for her. I thought her to be very well-developed.

There are two male leads: Captain Holland, of the military & a Mr. Deprez, a former sugar plantation owner from St. Lucia. One man is a little rough around the edges, not having a formal education. He and Mary get along well & have good rapport but with her education & background, they don't have much in common. The other man is a polished gentleman who, like Mary, enjoys literature & poetry. Mary needs help with the mystery surrounding her uncle's property & she puts her trust in both men...but only one is worthy of that trust.

This mystery unfolds well. The main character is, of course, Mary but the author also gives you glimpses into the lives/minds of the other characters. These glimpses tell you just enough to make you think that someone you thought was a bad guy could really be a good guy, or the other way around. Then, later in the story, you'll find yourself changing your mind again. You never really know for certain, until near the end, which is villain.

Thrown into this mystery are well placed scenes of everyday life, humor, & romance. The romance is very sweet & plays out well.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a really tough book for me to review. I was very excited to read it since all the elements that I enjoy were there --- history, England, mystery and intrigue. Unfortunately, for me, it missed the mark.

The book is set in 1795 in England and the historical portions of the book were very interesting. I enjoyed reading about modes of travel, societal norms and life styles of the period. That part was very good and I would give that portion of the book a 4 star rating.

The story revolves around spying and treason related to ammunitions technology turing the period of conflict between France and England in the late 1700s. This is where the story fell short for me. If you don't already have a good understanding of the war, the entire spy storyline is fairly empty. There wasn't any background given explaining what was going on other than that the two countries were at war. It was difficult to put it in any kind of context if you don't have it going in. The entire spy/encoded documents portion seemed weak and I felt like it was there to move the characters along versus being a story that needed to be told -- it was very contrived. That part of the book is what brings it to a 3 star rating for me.

While I didn't hate it, I didn't like it either. There is a lot of potential with this author, but this whole thing was just a half step off for me. I would read things by Rose Melikan in the future based upon this book, but am not eagerly awaiting the next one.

To sum it up --If you enjoy period literature for the setting and culture, this is probably worth your time. If you enjoy a good mystery/suspense story, I'd pass and spend your time and money elsewhere.
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Format: Paperback
This is a lively debut novel brimming with fun and suspense. I liked the sprightly tone of the book, and the heroine Mary, well matched with her hero Robert, with just the right undercurrent of romance to keep us turning the pages. Mary going to visit her uncle has a journey fraught with mishaps and peril, and strange turns of events which kept me up reading long into the night.

I loved the opening scene in Cambridge amid the madness of the Newmarket races, which is very true to life. The main things I did not like were that the dialogue tended to be more explanation than conversation. The author also uses a third person omniscient narrator and so the switch to that point of view can be really jarring and reads a bit too much like bad Charles Dickens.

I also wish Captain Holland was a bit less 'stiff upper lip'. Mary is a solid character who copes well in what is mainly a tough man's world, though she takes some silly risks and tends to run around a lot unchaperoned, which any woman of quality would have tended not to do. But generally speaking, this was witty and fun if you like good historical fiction with mystery and a dash of romance.
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