Karen EngelmannThe Stockholm Octavo

Ecco Books, 2012

by C. P. Lesley on December 20, 2012

Karen Engelmann

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It’s 1789, and despite the troubles in France, Emil Larsson, a sekretaire in the Customs Office in Stockholm, has life pretty much where he wants it. His job brings him lucrative under-the-table deals with pirates, smugglers, and innkeepers—not to mention a dashing red cape that appeals to the ladies—and he has managed to parlay his skill as a gambler into a partnership with the mysterious Mrs. Sparrow, owner of a prestigious private club dedicated to games of chance.

But when the head of the Customs Office announces that every sekretaire must marry if he wishes to keep his post, Emil sees his carefree existence slipping away. Mrs. Sparrow offers to help by casting an octavo—a set of eight predictive cards representing key figures whom Emil must identify and manipulate to achieve his predicted future of love and connection. As Emil moves about the Town (Stockholm), every encounter assumes new meaning. Is this his Prisoner? His Key? His Courier?

We don’t know, and neither does he. But as Emil’s quest continues, the stakes rise. The situation in France deteriorates; and the future of the Swedish monarchy and its king, Gustav III, increasingly hinges on Emil’s ability to decipher his octavo and influence the contest between Mrs. Sparrow and the fascinating Uzanne—mistress of the fan, foe of the king, and the person most likely to prevent Emil from attaining his goals.

Fans of historical mystery and political intrigue will love Karen Engelmann’s “irresistible cipher between two covers—an atmospheric tale of many rogues and a few innocents gambling on politics and romance in the cold, cruel north”—as Susann Cokal characterizes The Stockholm Octavo (ecco Books, 2012) in the New York Times Book Review (December 9, 2012).

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