HarperTorch, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-103206-9
Historical Mystery, 2003 (Reissue)
Goodness me, Tracy Grant’s Daughter of the Game is marketed as fiction, which I guess is appropriate as it deals with real emotions, real problems, and allows the main characters to confront difficult and complicated issues in their relationship – something the romance genre often can’t do due to the limitations of the formula.
To give a detailed synopsis here is to do this book a grave injustice. I’ll just say that it is 1819 and from all appearances, Charles and Mélanie Fraser are a perfect couple. They are both good-looking people and they have two adorable children. Their seven-year marriage are still going strong; in fact, they are in love and even share a bedroom. He’s an up-and-coming member of the Parliament, she is the gracious and perfect society hostess… really, with this set-up, it’s inevitable that something will happen to destroy the happy facade. This something is the kidnap of the son Colin. The kidnappers give Charles and Mélanie until Saturday to exchange the Carevalo Ring for Colin. As our couple rush against time to find the Ring, secrets from the past are exposed, inflicting what may be more wounds on our couple that can never heal.
By golly, Charles and Mélanie Fraser are one of the most memorable couple I’ve ever come across. Charles seems like a cold and calculative man at first, and indeed, his parents’ truly disastrous marriage that ended with his mother’s suicide might have ruined his ability to form long-lasting healthy relationships with anyone. It is pure magic to follow his realization that even when Mélanie has dragged him through the worst betrayals he can ever experience, he has grown to love her so much that somehow, in the end, it probably shouldn’t stop them from trying again. Mélanie is a strong-willed and intelligent heroine. I especially love how the author allows these two very walking wounded characters to actually look outward and be strong instead of wallowing in pity-parties. In the case of Charles, he refuses to even acknowledge half of his baggages, instead channeling them into positive actions like being a good father to his children and a good husband to make up for his own horrific childhood. Only when Colin is missing and both his and Mélanie’s past catch up with them does he have to confront these issues to find the strength to make a decision regarding how he wants his life to be.
How can I resist a man that tells his wife this?
“With you I found something in myself I thought I’d lost. How could I back away from life when you attacked it with every fiber of your being? How could I turn away from the future when the future was a legacy we’d bequeath to our child? Besides… in a world where I could feel what I came to feel for you, anything seemed possible.”
How can I resist a hero who seems to be so calm and controlled, yet when he’s so furious, he smashes his fist into the wall until he bled without realizing it? And not once did he treat Mélanie cruelly despite his realizing the extent of her betrayal. In this case, I agree with the author: when one is the situation Mélanie is in, her actions are understandable to me, and to be honest, I respect her more for having the guts to stand up for her principles and accept the consequences for her actions. She’s a far cry from the sniveling bluestocking idiots currently overpopulating the romance genre – she is courageous and strong, and Charles is a wonderful man to remember that always.
This book is romantic despite being marketed as a historical mystery. Charles and Méanie work together very well in perfect synchrony, love obsessively like Heathcliff and Catherine’s slightly more sane counterparts, and their complex psychology and so well-drawn personalities allow their love story to be so vivid and breathtaking that I actually weep when Mélanie tells Charles the true account of her past and Charles begins to experience what will be a slow-simmering epiphany that Mélanie has been making many choices that he will never agree with in the past to survive, and in the end, their love should be strong enough for them for forgive and forge ahead anew. In this book, the love story is not pretty and some of the issues here may be too much for readers that want to read only light-hearted romance novels. But do give it a try, especially if you enjoy tortured heroes and heroines that work together and try to do good things together.
So why don’t I give this book a keeper grade? I am very tempted to, but ultimately, I decide not to. Here’s why. Firstly, I understand that there is nothing much Mélanie and Charles can do, but their constant interrogation of witnesses do not make interesting reading, not when Ms Grant doesn’t include any variation in the pace and style of each scene. It’s always the same: Charles or Mélanie would give an edited account of the day’s event, the witness would express horror at someone kidnapping a child and claim that they too have children, before dropping the next clue for our couple to follow. Also, the book introduces an unnecessary soap-operatic paternity twist that adds nothing to the story other than some eye-rolling “Oh spare me” moments from me, a villain that tells everything in his dying breath (could be worse, I guess, he could be singing a seven-minute Hindi song as if he is in a Bollywood movie), and a resolution that ties up everyone and everything together so neat and tidy that I really have to go “Oh spare me” one more time.
Take away the couple, and Daughter of the Game would have been a very standard mystery story plagued with the villain-tells-all-before-dying syndrome. I will want to revisit Charles and Mélanie Fraser again, but I will be skimming quite a high number of pages in this book just to get to the good stuff.