When the intriguing Comte d’Esmond enters a room, women swoon and men gnash their teeth. The count is fully accustomed to this reaction and brilliant at exploiting it. What he isn’t prepared for is Leila Beaumont. One look from her tawny eyes is dangerously captivating. How … troublesome. Esmond can’t afford the distraction of an entanglement, however passionate it promises to be. He’s supposed to be working — for the government! — and his employers want Leila’s corrupt and treacherous husband brought to justice. When the spouse, unsurprisingly and conveniently, gets himself murdered, all Esmond has to do is clear Leila of suspicion and proceed to the next assignment.
But not being hanged for her husband’s murder isn’t enough for Leila. She wants to learn the truth — all of it — from Esmond, a man who’s been lying all his life.
Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase
This review can also be found on Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell-blog.
If you’ve read the blurb you know that this is a romantic mystery where Leila Beaumont is trying to find out who killed her father almost a decade ago and who is responsible for the recent death of her husband. Of course, she can’t help but be tempted by the spy assigned to help her, Comte d’Esmond.
What you don’t know is that Captives of the Night isn’t a quite like any other romance novel I’ve ever read before. It’s a historical and it features a so called bad boy with a heart of gold, and those are things I love, but for a good part of the story the heroine spends married to someone other than the apparent love of her live. What’s more curious, is that she freely admits having once loved her abusive and vile husband.
It’s a delightfully realistic take on two people finding each other and giving themselves a second chance in happiness. Not everyone finds and marries the love of their live at seventeen and spend the rest of their lives together. There’s a slight problem, though.
How does an author stop the heroine from becoming a contemptible doormat to an abusive husband while turning her into a possible adulteress and keep her relatable to an average romance reader?
The answer is, she doesn’t. At least, Chase didn’t. She made the Leila Beaumont into a violent tempered shrew who can stand up to her morally corrupt husband and and whose tantrums lead to her being the suspect in her husband’s murder. And that’s how Chase handled the second part of her dilemma. Getting rid of an unwanted balls in chain (pun intended) was the only way for the true romance to move on.
I call it a true romance because it isn’t magically easy. Both Esmond and Leila fight their attraction for each other instead of giving into their insta-lust. The sex part still comes quite early for an historical novel, but at least it follows a decent seduction. I’d almost given up on the hope of reading scene something as innocuous as a good look at a man’s hands can raise the temperature of the room. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise then that this book was written and originally published in the early 1990’s. As much as I don’t miss the euphemisms, I do miss the sensual seductions that used to precede outright sex in romantic fiction.
I liked the fact that as imperfect and infuriating as both characters were, they were evenly matched. Their flaws and strengths complemented each other. Admittedly, Esmond had the advantage of his gender and the laws of the era to help him, but I also felt he was cunning enough to handle Leila when needed to, just as she was stubborn enough to demand the truth and trust he so reluctantly bestowed to anyone.
All this I liked, the story, the writing, and I liked the mystery too, which managed to surprise me to a certain extent. Also, I’m valiantly ignoring all the bad, bad, words like female, core, and a host of others I’ve managed to forget since reading the book. So, why then, isn’t my rating higher?
I simply didn’t like certain aspects of the book. Not only was I bored for the longest periods, I found myself baulking at how certain things were handled and how much attitudes have changed in twenty years. It has to do with the dead husband’s vices and how those were described. I appreciate the historical accuracy of such attitudes, but I can’t help but feel that another author writing today would have chosen his or her words differently especially when describing someone as tolerant as Comte d’Esmond talking or thinking about the matter.
ETA: A more anachronistic review of this one can be found here.