There's a decent short mystery story buried in the pages and pages of this ponderously long novel, all covered up with interminable literary discussions, endless political machinations, lengthy culinary digressions and dull descriptions of duller society parties, few of which have much to do with advancing the plot. The murder, which doesn't take place till two-thirds of the way through, and has an immediately obvious solution, forms a minor part of the book, which must be considered more of a Bildungsroman or a comedy of manners. It isn't a very good example of either. This book supposedly made Bulwer-Lytton's reputation as a novelist, but for modern readers it's a snooze.
An opportunistic law clerk finds a means of blackmailing a newly wealthy woman. Will he get away with it?
Not quite either a thriller or a procedural, this crime novel is nevertheless one where the reader knows all and waits to see whether the characters will find out. It also suffers from the lack of a strong central character.
That said, it reads well, and the ending comes as a bit of a surprise.
Well-to-do New Yorker Phil Quentin reencounters Dorothy Garrison, the woman with whom he'd had a boy-girl romance. His love reignites, but she — a beautiful heiress — is already engaged to an Italian prince. Quentin knows him as a man who, under another name, in another country, once stood trial for murder. The prince is by no means happy with the emergence of his rival, less still of one who knows his past, and takes steps to discourage him ... permanently.
The novel starts off oddly, with the history of Quentin's servant, so you think it's going to be another sort of book until the romance appears. Then it turns into a thrilling adventure, not withstanding that Dorothy is something of a ninny.
A very long book, with so much exposition and irrelevant text that it implies Collins was paid by the word. It moves slowly and painfully through the pitiful story of a young woman in trouble who, awaiting the seducer who's promised to marry her, is met instead, under compromising conditions, by her best friend's fiancé, a messenger from the reluctant groom.
While the tale, refreshingly for the period, heaps nearly all the blame on the man instead of dwelling on the sins of a fallen woman, it's just too drawn out. The novel offers a strong education, complete with lengthy legal quotes, on the unhappy plight of married women under inequitable19th-century marriage laws in Ireland, Scotland and England (and an interesting recipe for olives), but it drags.