Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7354-2
Historical Romance, 2002
Alyssa Lockhart is a young American girl who has been banished to stay with her distant relatives in Penridge House, Cornwall. What she did to earn her this banishment is actually quite a cute thing and not that dumb (no fake debauchment or other contrived “In the end, I’m really still pure, I just thought… oh!” nonsense, so don’t worry). Our heroine always dreamed of adventures – she’s young, remember that – so she has a chance to test her Nancy Drew prowess and snoop around when she learns that a ghastly murder has taken place and her charming guardian, Colonel Harris Trevell, may be a prime suspect. Too bad he’s so hot.
As a romance, this story is a flop, a fall kittens-down, butts-up on the floor flop. The main and only reason – and it’s one reason enough to kill the romance – is that I can count with one hand the actual number of scenes where Alyssa and Harris actually talk to each other (kisses interruptus don’t count). Most of the time Harris remains a dark, mysterious broody guy (maybe he has to, for the sake of the plot) and Alyssa is interacting with the passel of secondary characters that make up the ensemble cast. These characters include Harris’s cousin’s wife Gwendolyn (her husband is the dead guy), the daughter Meggie, a strange and menacing clergyman, and don’t forget the household staff.
It is clear within minutes that most of the rumors concerning Alistair are false, and it is up to besotted Alyssa to snoop around to find clues and all to solve the mystery. Alyssa has the earnestness of an enthusiastic puppy that I find it really hard to muster even a little disdain at some of her more questionable antics. She has spunk and she has guts, she’s borderline living in her own world and trying to be pragmatic all in once, and I like her. Besides, anyone who prefers Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling tales over Jane Austen’s little storms in the teacup is okay in my book. The mystery makes a cozy, comfy and not too demanding read.
Now all I want to know is why this book is being marketed as the Love of the Century thing. It’s a charming cozy mystery, pleasant and readable with an earnest and likable heroine in the forefront running the show. The romance is tacked on and pretty forgettable, but I guess if one can overlook that, Silk and Shadows may just turn out to be a pleasant romp of a story.