by Jillian Stone, historical (2012)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-2905-7
Goodness me, I hope it's not a pattern for each book in Jillian Stone's The Gentlemen Of Scotland Yard series to have a longer title than the previous book. A Dangerous Liaison With Detective Lewis is the second book in the series, but don't worry, it stands alone. The books are merely connected by the fact that the heroes of the books so far are Scotland Yard guys who find love while being on a dangerous case.
Raphael Lewis is assigned at the start of this book to protect Francine Greyville-Nugent, the heiress of a rich industrialist whose fortune was made in steam-powered farming and mining equipment. The man, along with several other wealthy people who played a role in the rise of industrialization in the late Victorian era, was gruesomely murdered in a manner involving a device or a manner that these victims made their fortune from. Fanny's father was pushed into a thresher. A railroad tycoon was practically cut into three when he was pinned on a track and, you know, the train couldn't stop in time, oops.
What seems like an interesting macabre serial murder case turns out to be something more mundane, sigh, as the gruesome murders peter away to more standard plot devices like kidnap attempts and chases. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Rafe is chosen to be on this case because he came from the neighborhood - Queensferry in Edinburgh - so he'd the one who would know the lay of the land best. Thing is, he has an awkward (to say the least) history with Fanny, and their reunion will only reopen old wounds. But really, what's the worst thing that can happen, right?
A Dangerous Liaison With Detective Lewis is in many ways similar to the previous book in the series, so if you have read that one, you will know what to expect here: a fast-paced, sometimes frenetic investigative drama with some romantic elements. Readers expecting a more cozy story where the focus is on the romance may want to alter their expectations when it comes to this book, because the procedural drama is as heavily emphasized here as the romance. Which is to say, it's about 50-50.
In the previous book, I found the romance more interesting than the procedural drama. Here, it's the complete reverse: I am more intrigued by the murder mystery. A big part of this is Fanny. She's certainly a tall glass of water where heroines are concerned. A heiress who takes an active interest in her father's work and actually expands her knowledge in various subjects such as engineering because she finds such subjects interesting, she doesn't require much effort to take to being Nancy Drew like a duck to water.
She is mature enough to talk to Rafe without throwing temper tantrums, even if she earns the right to one or two for what he did to her in the past, and she also doesn't do that stupid "I don't care if people are out to kill me, I'm my own boss and I'll sneak out at night on my own because I want to!" nonsense that some authors believe make compelling conflicts in a story. Fanny is an active and intelligent partner in the investigative duo, and her knowledge of engineering and her deductive skills certainly are invaluable here.
The thing is, Fanny can only carry the story for so long. Yes, the poor darling is certainly adorable, but I can't say the same for the lummox she's stuck with here. For all his bluster, Rafe is, er, lacking when it comes to displaying the thinking skills that a good Scotland Yard guy like him is supposed to have. Early on, he practically stands there like a confused goldfish when Fanny is kidnapped right under his nose, and it's downhill from there. It's bad enough that most of the time Fanny is the one wearing the Sherlock Holmes hat while he... er, stands there and looks stern, I guess.
As I've mentioned, this story starts out with some really cool gruesome murders, a fact that warm the heart of this particular reader who also loves watching disgusting splatter films in her free time, but things soon peter out into more mundane and even rote scenes of kidnaps, rescues, chases, runs, and a few jumps here and there. The frenetic pace is often interspersed by ill-timed scenes of "romance" that usually comprises scenes of mental lusting or actual groping. There isn't much time or space here for long-drawn drama or screaming matches, so Rafe and Fanny are actually very amicable for people with their history. They have no problems getting intimate again - maybe it's all that adrenaline. While I'm glad that they are so even-headed when it comes to reacquainting again, this also means that the story ends up being a rather dry affair sprinkled with some romantic moments that feel like mere fillers between the more action-driven moments.
Still, unlike the plot of the previous book, this one is actually quite interesting, and watching Fanny in action is quite diverting. But when she finally wonders why she doesn't just use her many big bags of money to hire her own people to look into her father's murder, she's only echoing my own feelings. This is especially considering how Rafe turns out to be a most disappointing example of a supposed smart action man that doesn't deliver the goods.
This book is certainly an upgrade from the previous book, and that's the good news. The heroine is a memorable one too, so that's a definite plus where I am concerned. But I feel that the author has yet to find a good balance between procedural drama and romance, and she also tends to rely on someone doing something stupid - in this case, Rafe - in the penultimate moment for all that grand drama to take place in the climax. The author may be getting there, who knows, but she's certainly not there yet.
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