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The Merest Loss by Steven Neil - Book Tour

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The Merest Loss
A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English
hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.

When Harriet Howard becomes Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and appears at his side in Paris in 1848, it is as if she has emerged from nowhere. How did the English daughter of a Norfolk boot-maker meet the future Emperor? Who is the mysterious Nicholas Sly and what is his hold over Harriet?

Can Harriet meet her obligations and return to her former life and the man she left behind? What is her involvement with British Government secret services? Can Harriet’s friend, jockey Tom Olliver, help her son Martin solve his own mystery: the identity of his father?

The central character is Harriet Howard and the action takes place between 1836 and 1873. The plot centres on Harriet’s relationships with Louis Napoleon and famous Grand National winning jockey, Jem Mason. The backdrop to the action includes significant characters from the age, including Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Grafton, as well as Emperor Napoleon III. The worlds of horse racing, hunting and government provide the scope for rural settings to contrast with the city scenes of London and Paris and for racing skulduggery to vie with political chicanery.

The Merest Loss is historical fiction with a twist. It’s pacy and exciting with captivating characters and a distinctive narrative voice.

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From Steven Neil, the author of THE MEREST LOSS
A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.

A Hint of Things to Come

No doubt the reader is looking for some clue as to which way the story will go, at this point in the novel. No certainty yet, but in chapter thirty of The Merest Loss a strong hint is delivered.

Chapter Thirty
Last Chance
Wroughton, England
Paris and La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France

And so it is that at noon, on Friday the fifth of June 1863, Harriet Howard, Melliora Findon, Lavinia Lampard and Princess Mathilde present themselves at Vefour restaurant on the rue de Beaujolais, beside the Palais Royal in Paris and order a jeroboam of champagne. They are all attractive women, around their fortieth year, but there the similarity ends. Mathilde wears the most extraordinary purple and white striped, half-domed, crinoline dress, with a French lace shawl. It is an awkward construction and it takes the assistance of two waiters to arrange her at the table. Beside her, Lavinia’s black, mourning dress in the style of  Queen Victoria, and Mellie’s beige, tunic dress, merge quietly into the plum-velvet banquette. Harriet’s fuchsia-pink, crinoline dress, in other circumstances strikingly bright, looks a model of restraint beside Mathilde. Suffice to say that the four women make an impression. Even Vefour, all gilded mirrors, chandeliers, inlaid carvings, gold ceilings and painted neo-classical panels, seems muted in comparison. It is fair to say that the afternoon goes downhill rather swiftly and four hours and three more jeroboams later, the ladies, now the only diners - if that is the right word - left in the restaurant, are in philosophical mood.
The conversation moves through various subjects, but the condition of the male of the human species is the one to which they return. Mathilde, who betrays a certain disdain for the men in her life, of which there have been many, is moved to announce that ‘men can never be trusted.’
‘I think that may be too sweeping,’ says Lavinia. ‘My dear husband was always as good as his word. He possessed many positive qualities.’
‘I am happy to hear it. What would you say was his best quality?’
‘He was a very kind man. I think that is a characteristic often overlooked.’
‘Indeed, but what about passion? Surely a relationship cannot survive on kindness.’
‘I think it survives very well. Passion is fleeting and capricious. I would never trust passion if that was all there was between a man and a woman.’
‘Perhaps that is where I am going wrong. What about you Harriet: kindness or passion. What would you have?’
‘I aspire to both.’
‘Nicely said. And you Mellie. You are quiet on the matter.’
‘I speak little because I know so little. Men are not my specialist subject. I am happy to listen and learn.’
Melliora’s reply slows Mathilde for a while: she is not sure what to make of it. However, she is soon back on track.
‘Harriet, let us not skirt around the subject any longer. Is it true you will be reconciled with Jem Mason at last?’
Lavinia and Mellie sit forward and rest their chins on their forearms as if choreographed by an unseen director, their eyes fixed on Harriet.
‘And what does Jem Mason have to commend him, after all these years?’ adds Mathilde.
‘He was the first man I cared about and that emotion never left me. He was always his own man. I admired his independence. He put into words what I felt, about making my own way in life, when I was a young girl. That stayed with me.’
‘When will the great romance be reinstated?’
‘There are some small obstacles to be overcome. I will tell you all about it when I can. I think it really will be our last chance, but we are determined not to fail this time.’
‘How marvellous. I can hardly wait.’

© Steven Neil

Author Bio Steven Neil has a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. In his working life he has been a bookmaker’s clerk, management tutor, management consultant, bloodstock agent and racehorse breeder. He is married and lives in rural Northamptonshire.

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