The eponymous character, Miss Temple, is a young wealthy lady of 25 ("too old to be single") who, when receiving a letter from her fiancee ending their relationship, is determined to follow him in order to learn the dreaded reason why. It is not clear if she feels more afraid of finding out that the culprit was another woman (one can always slap her) or just the fastidious aim to ascension inside the boring duties of the Ministry.
Her investigation will lead her to a sinister ride on a mostly empty train boarded only by masked men and women who assemble in a not less sinister mansion for a purpose that is not immediately clear to the reader or to Miss Temple. One thing that seems clear is that some of the women are prostitutes, there to entertain part of the guests while real business is carried somewhere else.
Well, the reader's heart must be beating by now. In true pulp sleazy style, Miss Temple is able to pass herself as one of a group of prostitutes, and is immediately led to a changing room, where she's expected to don some very sexy and revealing white silk corset. I must say it is a hell of an erotic read.
Miss Temple is a truly Victorian heroine, not much dissimilar from Catherine Morlan of Northanger Abbey fame, although a lot more smart. And Mr. Dahlquist clearly knows his gothic novels, as he smoothly parades before the reader a succession of horror cliches, from the steps approaching in the dark, through some macabre medical cabinet to a very touchable atmosphere of dread and menace. The shadows are rich with innuendo, as are some of the weird characters that cross this brief section (of around 70 unforgettable pages).
Before the section ends, we'll see Miss Temple at the receiving end of a fairly graphic rape attempt; but the high point must be the scene when she is changing clothes to a more revealing outfit in front of a mirror. As she dons the sexy corset, breathing fast, pink nipples visible above the cloth, it's not only wardrobes being changed. We assist to a profound change in the demeanor of the young (virgin) Victorian girl, and it speaks sociological volumes of an era when even the table legs had to be covered.
I'll return to this novel as I progress in its reading.