Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-2716-4
Historical Romance, 2014
Not Quite a Wife is the sixth book in Mary Jo Putney’s The Lost Lords series, and there are appearances of characters from previous books, but this one has a self-contained story with minimal baggage from previous books. It can hold up pretty well to a reader who is new to the series, I believe. The entire series combines spies and damsels, somewhat akin to the author’s Fallen Angels series, but you shouldn’t try to compare the two series as there is a good chance that you’d never be happy with this series as a result.
About ten years ago, Laurel Herbert and James, Lord Kirkland, were happily married. It was love at first sight – he proposed shortly after they first met. His job as a spy dude soon caught up with him, however, and she stumbled upon him one night him killing a man in their home. It was self defense on his part, but she couldn’t forget the violence or the look in his eyes. She fled the happy home, and because he loved her – still do, today – he let her leave. That was then. When the story opens, he happens to be in her neighborhood when he was overcome by cabin fever while he was in a seedy part of town. He gets beaten up badly by some thugs, and is brought to the Herbert Infirmary, the local infirmary tended by Laurel herself. Of course she takes him in and cares for him.
He gets delirious and, upon seeing his beloved wife again, does what you’d imagine. She is, naturally, swept up by the remembered passion of their brief marriage, and before you know it, they’re both having a wonderful time. Still, she’s happy to let him think that the whole happy moment is a part of his delirium and have him walk out of her life again. This time around, though, they’re going to have to sit down and work out their issues, because that special time in the hospital has produced a you-know-what in the oven.
Unlike the last few books in this series, Not Quite a Wife by Mary Jo Putney is a pretty peaceful story, with no chase scenes, action, and other types of drama to distract from the romance. There is some pretty intense stalker-loves-you drama on James’s part, which comes off as touching and sweet instead of overbearing and annoying. The characters can get quite stubborn when it comes to laying all their cards on the table and talking things out, but their recalcitrance seems to stem from their own insecurities and their desire to not hurt the other person – again, quite touching and sweet rather than annoying. In many ways, this book almost recaptures the author in her glory.
Almost, that is. There is a lot of telling instead of showing in this story, which is unfortunate as this narrative style creates a distance between me and the characters. Instead of showing me how the characters’ feelings evolve over time, I’m told, oh, she feels this, she thinks that, he does this, he wonders about that. This can be problematic because the plot of this story revolves around feelings and emotions instead of guns and spies.
For example, I understand where Laurel is coming from – she was a pretty sheltered girl who was horrified by the things James is capable of doing, I get that. However, because I don’t get a good idea of what is happening inside her head, Laurel can often seem obtuse for the sake of being obtuse. He’s a spy – what does she expect a spy to do? The fact that she keeps talking about how there are better ways to solve a problem makes her look like an addled idealist at times – he was trying to save himself, after all. What does she expect? That he’d rap the guy’s knuckles with a ruler and nag the scumbag to repent? For a long time, she’s being this stubborn idealist, and then, she decides that she really loves him. Why? Because the author tells me so.
The author has the right idea here. James says – correctly so – that, despite the two of them being in love, they were too young to deal with the realities of his job and their marriage back then. So, the romance here is on the right track, as it’s about two people who are supposedly more mature this time around, who would make their relationship work better this time around. It’s just that the execution of the story is too mechanical and basic for its own good. I want to understand better the characters’ motivations and changing feelings. Just being told isn’t good enough, not with a story with such a premise.
Not Quite a Wife is almost there. Almost, but not quite.