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Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch by Ilil Arbel (book review)

NetGalley Description

Meet Madame Koska—a fabulous haute couture designer and the owner of a new atelier in 1920’s London who has a knack at solving crimes that simply baffle the police.

When a priceless brooch disappears from a museum in Russia, Madame Koska is suddenly drawn into the mystery. But who is Madame Koska? And what does the missing jewel have to do with her? Find out in her first adventure!

Thursday Quotables Meme

This is a very whimsical story, and that’s part of its charm. It is, I think, also its limit.

The setting is very intriguing: London haute couture environment paired with the Russian émigré community. It’s unusual, and even if I don’t know much about either, I had the impression both subjects were well-researched, which is always a good sensation.

The characters are nice and diverse. Endearing, most of them. There was a lighthearted feeling to the entire story, but the tone became more participated when entering the matter of the flee of the White Russians from the Revolution.
These historical bits are maybe a little didascalic, but I still liked to read about it. The way so many people flee from their country. How they took refuge across the border (mostly in Turkey and China) and the harsh treatment they receive there. How everyone considered them strangers and belonging to the lowest strata of society. How some of them still managed to create a new life, often by accepting that their country was lost forever to them.
I even think that a little more focus on the refugee’s experience would have made it even more involving, but it was still interesting to read.

Madame Koska is a relatable character and fun to read. But I wonder whether she’s a bit too much over the top. The author clearly makes an extra effort to make her mysterious and intriguing, but honestly, I didn’t find that to work too well. At least for me. Maybe it was because the mystery about Madame Koska was really quite inconsequential to the story.

And about the story…
I know I’m saying this of about every mystery I’ve read recently, and maybe it’s more about me than them. I wonder if I’m becoming too much of a demanding reader, but I had quite a few issues with the mystery.
First, I was always unsure what the mystery was about. I mean, I knew that it was supposed to be about the disappearance of the Imperial Brooch, but I couldn’t decide what the point was. Why would Madame Koska investigate? What was so crucial about the brooch for any of the involved characters? The reason was so vague that it often disappeared from the story and Madame Koska’s action felt to be disconnected.
The conclusion was extremely unsatisfying. When the culprit is a character that never appeared in the story, I always feel like I’m cheated. And no, the fact that people ‘talk’ about that person in the story doesn’t count for me.

The shortcomings of the mystery aside, it was a nice, quick read, with a reasonably accurate historical setting which was unusual. I still enjoyed it.

Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch

An Excerpts

“And do you keep up with interesting cases in the real world?” asked Mr. Korolenko.

“No, I don’t have time for the newspapers these days.”

“So I suppose you did not hear about the mysterious disappearance of a piece of Russian jewelry,” said Mr. Korolenko.

“No, what is it?”

“A brooch that had once belonged to Catherine the Great. Apparently, after the revolution it was placed in a museum in a little provincial town by the Baltic Sea, I forget its name, to protect it. The security was excellent, but against all odds, the brooch vanished from its case. The museum is devastated.”

“Catherine the Great. I don’t know much about her other than what my friend, Madame Golitsyn, told me about the scandal of her pregnancies.”

“Oh, yes, it was quite a story. I read her memoirs, and would you believe, she did not try to hide any of the scandals; some historians think she even exaggerated them. I wouldn’t be surprised; everything she did was larger than life.”

The Thursday Quotables was originally a weekly post created by Lisa Wolf for her book blog Bookshelf Fantasy. It isn’t a weekly post anymore, not even for Lisa, but just like her, I still love to share my favourite reads on Thursday and I still use the original template which included an excerpt.

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