Genre: Historical Romance (1820s England), murder mystery
Form: e-book, pdf format
Target audience: adults
Why I read this?
Why I have to explain myself? Well, ok, I just feel like explaining… Every time I read a romance book I think I need to explain…oh well…maybe because a romance, historical, paranormal or contemporary, is not exactly my favourite genre. I read this novel only because it was recommended to me – otherwise I wouldn’t touch it for sure . Apparently this is part 2 in the 4 book series. Here are the titles of other parts: The Lion’s Daughter (01, out of print), Lord of Scoundrels (03), The Last Hellion (04). Here you go. Let’s get back to the review.
After a visit of three strangers in their nice Venice apartment 17-year old Leila Bridgeburton finds herself all of a sudden a penniless orphan as the body of her dear papa is floating in one of the canals. She is just one step away from being thrown out on the streets and facing a very bleak future. Fortunately a prince charming in the person of a young, handsome Francis Beaumont rescues her. Instantly smitten with his young charge, he seduces Leila first and then, very chivalrously, marries her (my hero!). They move to Paris where Leila studies painting and leads a relatively comfortable life. End of the story? Nah. Just a beginning.
About six years later Francis’s hedonistic lifestyle and complete lack of common sense have aged him significantly, weakening his body and garnering him legions of enemies, his wife among them. Leila, now a talented portrait painter, finds herself utterly disgusted with her savior. Francis’s primary function is to act as a buffer against the many men interested in pursuing her but Leila becomes more and more outraged when her husband openly entertains whores in their house and takes drugs. They quarrel a lot. Of course he claims that, somehow, it is still her fault. However, when he turns up so conveniently dead in their London house, it’s Leila who has to face murder charges. The investigation is led by Comte d’Esmond, a man of many talents who not only moves easily within the highest levels of society but has also spent the past ten years as one of the government’s most trusted and discreet covert operatives. Because of his skillful maneuvering she is acquitted but she must help a quiet investigation, initiated by government officials. They fear the fallout from Francis’s numerous blackmail and extortion schemes which were financing his bad habits – they could do irreversible damage to the ranks of careless statesmen and aristocrats alike.
The investigation promises to be lengthy and tedious. Neither Leila nor Esmond are particularly happy about his involvement in the case, as their relationship, since he orchestrated a meeting in Paris the year before, has been a tug-of-war between attraction and resistance. Esmond is a man with a dark and treacherous past, Leila has been gravely disappointed by her late husband. However, she knows she must find the culprit and clear her name if she wants to pursue her artistic career. Not to mention the fact that the murderer might be after her as well. Will they find who murdered Francis and for what reasons? What else will they discover during that process?
What I liked:
This book was 70% mystery and 30% romance – that’s why I think I appreciated it more than an average romantic novel. We get here a mysterious death puzzle with plenty of viable and interesting suspects and secondary characters, two fascinating protagonists, a complex interrelationship and an escalating emotional and sexual tension (yes, in this exact order, not the other way round). I found it very well executed, not unlike plots in books of my favourite romance writer, Courtney Milan.
When it comes to the seduction – it was realistic. The whole situation could be described shortly this way: “the husband lusts after d’Esmond, who’s after the wife, who only wants to be left alone to paint but somehow couldn’t get d’Esmond out of her head for a reason or two”. A romantic triangle? Hardly. Most of it takes part after the demise of dear Francis and very rightly so, that man was up to no good.
Now some more about the mystery, revolving around Francis’ killer, and the main characters, trying to solve the said mystery.
The criminal puzzle, which takes up much more space than the romantic thread, is clever. Francis, a great baddie, was a real deviant who loved blackmailing people and made them dance to his own tune. He had so many enemies you are rather spoiled for choice. Reading about his exploits and strategies you start to admire his wife. You see, Leila is one of these heroines who develop before the eyes of the reader. Soon she becomes so much stronger and savvy that the frightened, drugged young girl, introduced at the very beginning. She is nicely rounded, has a depth and passion. She did love her husband at first but she couldn’t save him from his own demons. What’s more, she is so clearly Esmond’s match, both of body and mind, that their inevitability as a couple with a satisfying HEA stretching out before them, became a given for me from almost the start. Both of them have scars and wounds to heal. Neither character wallows in their misfortune. The Comte is decidedly not as serene as he appears on the surface. Leila Beaumont has been emotionally damaged by her husband and can’t trust men at all – as soon as she realizes how many secrets the Comte is keeping she knows she can’t trust him either. And yet they have to work together and she slowly begins to unpick his story and find out more about him, much against his will.
I was rather afraid, reading about the Big Misunderstanding that was trailed from about a third of the book, a bit silly plot device which is very often used and abused in such novels. Fortunately the author did something rather better with this than you would usually expect in this kind of fictional narration.
What I didn’t like:
First let me tell you that I am simply puzzled by the cover art, presented above. We see a man with a very modern haircut peeping through some bed hangings or curtains; he’s got a definite five o’clock shadow and completely hairless arms (waxed? shaved? both?). He certainly doesn’t look like an Albanian masquerading as a French Count in 1829, who is described as having slightly overlong blonde hair and amazingly sapphire blue eyes. He also doesn’t look like Francis Beaumont – his face is far too young and too fresh, without any those tell-tale symptoms of drug abuse. I really don’t understand who he is and what he is doing here – it seems as if the book got a cover from another story.
Speaking about Albanians – I didn’t read the first part of this series so I might not know all the facts but it simply galled me that the omniscient narrator several times referred to Count d’Esmond as a ‘barbarian’ or wrote about his ‘barbarian half’. It seems she did so to emphasize the fact that the man came from a very wild and exotic country, apparently full of man-eaters, dragons, vampires and such. I found it rather unjust. If it was said by other characters I would understand – at that time British people treated everything non-British as simply ‘barbarian’. However, it was stated by that wretched omniscient narrator…and she should have known better. For example Francis was never called a barbarian because he was a British citizen who lived many years in Paris. It didn’t matter that he was clearly a sadist and a drug fiend, it didn’t matter that he loved to blackmail his victims and was not above exploiting them psychologically and sexually…but he was not a barbarian, he was British…hmmm…
This one really exceeded my expectations in a very positive way. I caught myself several times thinking ‘it is really good! how come it is so good?’ If you feel like reading a romance novel I highly recommend this one. You can always make a nice dust jacket out of a newspaper sheet and hide that stupid man on the cover.