by Lynn Kerstan, historical (2005)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21623-7
The last three chapters of Lynn Kerstan's Dangerous Passions belong in a keeper. A fabulous keeper that challenges the reader on preconceived notions of good, evil, forgiveness, compromise, and redemption; a keeper that brings tears to my eyes; a keeper that I would have loved to read. Unfortunately, everything that leads to these utterly fabulous last three chapters just meanders around without urgency or care. How I manage to remain awake to read the final three chapters, I will never know, heh.
Colonel Lord Marcus Cordell, ever the ubiquitous lord/spy character in the Regency historical subgenre, has a new mission. Someone is killing young men from various different backgrounds and he's charged by the secret society Black Phoenix to investigate. To aid him is Lady Eve Halliday who will play his fake fiancée. Unfortunately, Marcus realizes at once that Eve has a secret. The thing is, he doesn't know until later that Eve has a secret as well as an agenda: he and Eve are linked together by someone they both knew in the past. Eve wants revenge on behalf of this person whom she feels has been betrayed and treated in an unforgivable manner by Marcus. Too bad they have to fall in love in the process, which complicates matters a lot.
Lynn Kerstan has a good thing going in this story. The murder subplot is actually a very good one because it is designed to truly challenge the preconceived notions of how life should be of both Eve and Marcus (and the reader as well). In short, when revelations hit them both, they have to confront really difficult questions to which there are no clear and easy answers. The last three chapters are turbulent and emotionally-charged. Reading them leaves me feeling drained and wanting to stand up and applaud Ms Kerstan at the same time.
But getting there, ah, that is another story altogether. There are fundamental problems in the execution. For example, I never could see why the fake engagement is necessary since Cordell, being a minor baron, is already allowed access to the Ton where he can then investigate matters on the Black Phoenix's behalf. This is also a story where the villain just happens to be known to both the hero and the heroine - probably too neat and tidy a closure, really. Eve is a very cold and humorless heroine who constantly treats the world like her battlefield and everyone is to be vanquished - it's tiring to follow her because she is very brittle and cold. Cordell fares even worse - the author keeps his thoughts and motives hidden to me as well as Eve so he's pretty much a question mark. Ms Kerstan hints on these characters' past but details are never fully forthcoming. Just like how Ms Kerstan teases me, the reader, by making Marcus ridiculously opaque, she also keeps information from me and only reveals hints and pieces of the big picture. I have no idea who Cordell or Eve is by the end of this story.
The problem, I believe, is due to Ms Kerstan tackling too much in this story. We have a fake betrothal. We have a pretty big issue standing between Eve and Cordell, an issue that could have easily served as the single plot of this book. Then there's the killer in London. One of these elements could have easily serve as the main plot. Ms Kerstan attempts to juggle all three elements. The result is a shortchanging of all three. The main characters don't seem too concerned about the murder because they are too busy psychoanalyzing themselves thanks to the fake betrothal and the big issue between them. Likewise, the murder often cuts in and takes up space that could have been used to develop the main characters and the issues standing between them and their happily-ever-after. I think it is a mistake on Ms Kerstan's part to tackle three huge plots by treating them as subplot material. She doesn't have enough space in 370 pages to give each subplot adequate development.
It's a pity, really, because the last three chapters are really good and I can only wish that the rest of the book could have measured up to those three chapters. This book has plenty of potential so it's really too bad that Ms Kerstan ends up biting more than she can chew when she tries to cram too many big things into her book. Dangerous Passions isn't a bad book, just a rather unfocused one with many things about it that are inadequately developed by the author. However, thanks to the fabulous last three chapters, it's clear that this book could have been so much better. As a result, while on an ordinary day I may just feel disappointed by this book, now I feel cheated of a keeper on top of being disappointed by the book!
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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