Grand Central Publishing, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-6341-8
Historical Romance, 2017
Between the Devil and the Duke is all about missed opportunities. There are many intriguing not-always-common elements in this one, but everything just fizzles out eventually to make way for a tedious kind of same old, more old.
Alexander Lavoie is the owner of an exclusive hot gambling den, and he also hangs out with the heroines of the previous two books in this A Season for Scandal series – he is also an investigator, action hero, blah blah blah, just call him the Amazing Lovey or something. He recently spots a frequent visitor to his club – an intriguing masked lady who goes around making money like a pro at the tables. When he rescues her from a man who doesn’t take too kindly to losing to her, he offers her a job: he’d pay her well if she will apply her genius-level mathematical skills and photographic memory to becoming a dealer at his vingt-et-un table.
Angelique Archer – I’m sure her middle names are Rayne Aurora Darke – is of noble blood, and she is doing her thing at Lovey’s place because she is desperate. Her father was supposed to have lots of money, but the money just vanished after his death, leaving her to do what she has to do to keep bread on the table especially for her younger siblings, while her useless brother wenches and drinks his way like a happy loon. You know the story, I’m sure.
Following Angelique as she tries to make a decision is like slowly lowering one’s rear end on shards of glass, letting the jagged edge cut into the skin inch by inch with excruciating slowness, because girlfriend here is a complete failure in stringing things together. Seriously, give her 2 and 2 and she will somehow manage to tell herself that the result is 946. Oh, she can’t take that job, even if her responsibility is to keep everyone in the family free from pellagra and scurvy, because making all that money for the family will be irresponsible as she is supposed to be a lady! No, really, that is her train of thought, and yes, I’m that poor sod tied to the tracks and screaming as I see that Angelique train coming right over the corner straight at me. Oh, and he’s so hot and makes her lady parts all flooded with, er, heated moistures of lady-like true love feelings, ahem, so really, she shouldn’t take that job! And on and on she goes.
As if it matters, because we all know that the author will make sure that Angelique accepts that job anyway. In this instance, her brother steals the money so Angelique has no other option. So all her annoying psychobabble serves no purpose for the plot, other than to vex me. Ugh,
Instead of showing me how Angelique does her card-fu at the table, the story then slows to a painful grind as she and Lovey just talk and indulge in circular mental lusting. So much so that I perk up when the useless brother gets arrested for murder.
Angelique wonders whether she should ask Lovey for help. No, she shouldn’t, as he surely can’t help her! The man she saw firsthand make noble dudes cower because he knows all their filthy secrets – what can such a man do to help her and her brother? Let her frantically wiggle her hands and run around like a headless chicken as she once again does all that indecisive dingbat getting an aneurysm trying to make a decision shtick.
Again, it doesn’t matter. The author will make Lovey come into the scene and take charge anyway, so yes, once again, Angelique is just being a pest just to annoy me. Ugh.
Fortunately, the second half of this book is a huge improvement, mostly because Angelique only has to tag along with Lovey and don’t try to make any decision that will give her nosebleed. Lovey is of course good at being a more action-oriented Sherlock Holmes, while Angelique actually manages to show me that she really can think after all. Fancy that! The story becomes a more readable, and even compelling mystery-oriented melodrama, and it’s as if Leonard Cohen had descended right down from heaven to serenade me with the more erotic parts of Hallelujah. Okay, the villains are way too over the top evil for my liking, but after the painful first half of the book, I’m taking everything I can get with both hands wide open. I’m not sure how the imbecile Angelique somehow transformed into a competent investigative sidekick, but the sidekick version is not at all annoying – okay, she has her moments in the second half of the story – so yes, I’ll take this, thank you very much. I’m not sure how these two fall in love as they seem more in lust than anything else, but Lovey manages to get all intense and heavy breathing in a fun way. So I’ll take this too.
However, I’m really not fond of how the author has the hero’s friends sweep in at the last minute to save the hero and the heroine. Twice, consecutively. Is this supposed to be some kind of running joke? Maybe I’m missing the point, but these developments come off too much like cop-outs to me. Since Lovey is built up to be so awesome, come on, let him rip a few arms out of their sockets or something. It’d only intensify his sexiness, if you ask me.
Between the Devil and the Duke is basically two different books glued into one same volume, and the painful first half goes a long way to sour my mood even when I’m reading the much better second half. I find myself thinking that this is one story that would have been better without a heroine of noble blood. Make her a working class lady who works at the hero’s casino from the start, have him crush on her, and then have the two of them investigate a murder implicating her brother, who could have been a charming grifter that hangs out with the nobs at seedy clubs or something. Something like this premise would have sidestepped the need for the heroine to act like a headless chicken in that awful, awful first half.
Anyway, like I’ve said, this book is one missed opportunity from start to finish. What a waste.