The Sleeping Partner (Sarah Tolerance, #3)

The Sleeping Partner (Sarah Tolerance, #3) - Madeleine E. Robins STRONG WARNINGS for those who might be offended by kidnapping and possible rape... These books aren't for the faint-hearted. They portray a very realistic, gritty, dark, grimy, seedy underbelly picture of mankind, society, and especially Regency-age London.===================In this book, a Mrs. Brown seeks to engage Miss Tolerance's inquiry agent services to locate her missing 16 year old sister Evie (Evadne). Evie is thought to have eloped, which in this day and age means that she ran off with a man; not every eloped couple ends up in Gretna Greene to be married, so the stain of sexual impropriety from such a rash action always makes its way back to the family. Miss Tolerance should know - at the same age, she eloped with her brother's fencing master, several years her senior. Miss Tolerance and the fencing master never did marry, but they lived together as man and wife until he died. Rather than be forced into whoredom or try to take other employment, Miss Tolerance, as a Fallen Woman (or Fallen), took another last name (Tolerance) to avoid scandal for her family.Mrs. Brown's story of Evie is confusing; no one has any hint of a man that Evie might have been partial to or who might have seduced her to run away. Because Mrs. B doesn't want to reveal her real name or family name, Sarah has little to go on, and she knows that time is of the essence. She checks all the inns where a couple or a young girl might go to run away, but she has little success.When Sarah receives a note to meet Mrs. Brown at her family residence (which Sarah has already sussed out), she's surprised to find that the note was written by the Father, who demands that Miss Tolerance stop her search immediately. He tries to bring in Mrs. B's husband to enforce his claims, but both the husband and Sarah receive quite a shock when they recognize one another.Suddenly, Sarah finds herself more embroiled than ever with this case. And the signs keep pointing her towards the Father, the Eldest Son, and something to do with the military campaign at Walcheren, where the swamp infested with mosquitoes caused many British fighting men to die of or become infected with malaria. Cinchonna bark was the only medicine for malaria in those days, but it was pricey and difficult to come by. Somehow, the bark is part of the puzzle of how and why Evie is missing. Sarah is attacked more than once in her attempt to put the pieces together.THEN there's her aunt and her aunt's "business" to deal with. Her aunt, a Fallen, is now one of the leading madames in Town. But out of the blue, her aunt has a new suitor, an old beau, who seems to be insinuating himself into her aunt's business - something that no man has ever been allowed to do. The residents of the house, the "girls", the bouncer, the Cook - all want Sarah's help to set things straight. But her aunt won't hear a word against her fiancee; will she care that he's started sampling the wares?Miss Tolerance's friend, Sir Mandif, a magistrate from the Bow Street Offices comes to her aid and rescue more than once. Sarah is uncomfortable, because she's concerned about his reputation if he's seen with her too much. When she's forced to stay at his home for several days due to a concussion, Sarah realizes that Sir Walter has feelings for her beyond friendship. Can she allow herself to love again? Being Fallen, it's a risky thing for both of them. Sarah's used to taking care of herself and playing by her own rules. Would Sir Walter demand a more usual domestic arrangement, meaning she'd have to give up her cozy home and her job?====================A couple of things I don't understand:1. I don't understand the cover of this book at all. I've no idea who the figure is supposed to be or what he/she is holding in the left hand. I know, it's a small thing, but it's odd to me.2. I don't quite understand the title of the book. It seems obvious, and I feel like a dunce for not getting it, but... what can I say? Is the "sleeping" meant to imply both the aunt's fiancee and the villain?This book was very difficult in that it takes forever to get the pieces of the puzzle to start forming a picture. I know that's deliberate on the author's part, and I don't dislike it... exactly. I understand that in the real-world, unlike other books, TV, or movies, clues don't fall into your lap nor do they add up within the first 20 minutes. So I appreciate that the reader is in Sarah's shoes as she's struggling to figure out what and who is behind all of this.But the reality is just... ghastly. Horrid. Horrible. I truly wanted to murder at least 3 people in this book, and I don't know if I've ever said that before about a book. And yet, there is true family, true familial love and acceptance, and discovery in the best of ways... The author carefully balances the harsh with grace, but in a realistic way. She doesn't overplay her hand. She keeps her characters true to their time, place, and who she's created them to be.I've suspected a potential love interest in Sir Walter. And I really enjoyed how he and Sarah worked together a bit in this book. It's good for Sarah to see that she's attractive to men not just because she's Fallen and therefore easy prey. No, to see that a man of worth admires her and cares for her - enough to realize that she's simply not ready for anything more than friendship right now. But for that man to also make himself known in a way that doesn't offend or force too much awkwardness that could destroy their friendship now.I so look forward to the next book... if there is another one. I always wish more more happy endings, but I'm content with the way that the author works this one out.