Even before Emily steps off the Orient Express in beautiful and decadent Constantinople, she's embroiled in intrigue and treachery. The brutal death of a concubine in the sultan's palace allows her first foray into investigating a crime as an official agent of the British Empire--because only a woman can be given access to the forbidden world of the harem. There, she quickly discovers that its mysterious, sheltered walls offer no protection from a ruthless murderer.
"I don't think I could survive if anything happened to her. She's been beside me my whole life."
"You would. I'd make you."
"I'm not sure I'd thank you for it."
"You forget how persuasive I can be."
In which Emily is worried about her best friend dying and Colin is slightly creepy. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure he means well...but couldn't he have said how he'd help her through it instead of 'I will make you survive'? Also, two lines later they are talking about their sex-life again in that cutesy Victorian wink-wink-nudge-nudge way that did have me grin the first two or three times they did it but once every private conversation they head led to the same I wanted to yell 'Can you screw each other without constantly talking about it?'.
The mystery was just ridiculous. It involved so many coincidences that I just couldn't stretch my suspension of disbelief that far. And yes, cozy mysteries are books in which the main characters just keep stumbling over dead bodies or met people who just have but even for that genre the coincidences were over-the-top.
I did like that death in childbirth was a topic since I can't remember many novels that are set in an era where that is an issue that talk about it. (No matter if they were written in that era or in the present day). But the way it was discussed left me mostly unmoved. Emily's fear of it was told rather than shown. Its only result were some long internal monologues and her not telling Colin about the fact that she thinks she might be pregnant. (And even that can just as easily be attributed to the fact that she fears Colin would stop her from doing more dangerous things once he knows).
Ivy's storyline again did nothing for me. This book makes it painfully obvious that Ivy is just the foil to Emily. Ivy is the 'good Victorian woman' in the eyes of her contemporaries, while Emily is the one with too many strange ideas for her pretty little head. Ivy will always do what she is told and she'd never dream of demanding answers. Even if the answers concern her and even if she's scared. Ivy is there to tell the reader who
Ivy is there to tell the reader how Victorian women were expected to behave and how much the good old days sucked. Ivy is there so that Emily can worry about her. Ivy is not in any way a character in her own right with interests, hopes or anything. She's a symbol, somebody Emily can angst over and occasionally a plot device.
Talking about characters that aren't really characters: Every single woman from the harem. They were there so that Emily could have discussions with them about whether women in the West are better or worse of than their counterparts in the ottoman empire.
And while I think that that it's not intentional, it has some unfortunate implications that the only woman who is unhappy in the harem is the one who is secretly Christian. Because only if your religion tells you it's wrong, you'd be unhappy in such a place. Now that brings me to my biggest gripe with the book.
Spoiler alert. It's not directly about the mystery part but it is intertwined with it and it concerns events at the very end of the book so read at your own risk.
Roxelana, the unhappy Christian in the harem wants to flee. Because she hates her life in the harem and because she has a lover outside. And she wants Emily's help. After some reluctance Emily agrees. The escape fails and Roxelana has to return to the harem but - for contrived and absolutely nonsensical reason - she won't be punished further. Her lover (who is an idiot and screwed up badly in the course of the book) considers that a fitting punishment for his screw ups. Yes, you read that right. He will now suffer the punishment of not being able to screw the hot chick.
Meanwhile, the girl (full disclosure: she was also was stupid and screwed up...she was also terrified) is going to remain a sex-slave. Which she will hate because her religion tells her it leads to eternal damnation. (So does suicide so that wouldn't be a way out either). And she will be so popular with the other women after her attempt to flee, I'm sure.
But it's important that the guy has accepted that he has to put his dick somewhere else and this is going to be a bit bad for him.