79) Jennifer Ashley — The Duke’s Perfect Wife
Fourth and final book in the Highland Pleasures quartet of romance novels about four brothers who are Scottish Lords in Victorian Britain. This book is about Hart MacKenzie, oldest of the brothers, and head of the family since their father’s death. Their father was a brutal monster, whose ill-treatment of his family has damaged all four men. Hart has done much and sacrificed much to protect himself and his brothers, and that as much as the ill treatment has had its effect on him. There are other losses besides, including losing his wife and child to death.
And before that there was Eleanor Ramsey, his first fiancee, who broke off their engagement when she discovered what it was he did to deal with his demons. Now Eleanor is back in his life, with the intention of protecting him from a potential scandal involving nude photographs taken of him long ago.
Hart still loves her, and has no intention of letting her go this time. But holding Eleanor Ramsey will take more than even Hart Mackenzie’s skill at seduction.
It’s a good book, and does an excellent job in rounding off the story arc of the family as a whole. But it doesn’t quite make good on hints dropped in earlier books about the darker strands of Hart’s personality. There were things set up which suggested that Hart had been involved in some fairly heavy BDSM, which may or may not have been consensual, but which contributed to his reputation as a man who could use his social position and wealth to get away with a great deal. As it turns out, Hart has good reason for thinking of himself as having the same capacity for viciousness and violence as his father did, but it’s to do with trying to protect his family. The BDSM isn’t a red herring, but it’s not what we were led to believe in the earlier books. I thought it worked, in part because I eventually felt Ashley may have been making a deliberate point about society’s assumptions about consensual BDSM, but I can see why other readers felt that it was bottling out. There’s fannish gossip about backtracking due to publisher pressure — if true, then I think Ashley did a good job in retconning the setup from earlier in the series.
Third of the Highland Pleasures quartet of romances about four brothers who are Scottish lords in Victorian Britain. This one looks at Cameron, a man who has sworn off marriage after his appalling first marriage, but who has not sworn off women. He’s a popular man with the ladies, being a generous lover both in the financial sense and in wanting it to be a mutually satisfying experience. Ainsley Douglas, a young widow of noble blood but impoverished circumstances, has crossed paths with him once before. But then she was married to a man she would not betray. Now she’s alone, and willing to consider letting Cam seduce her at least a little — and not just because that way she might be able to avoid explaining exactly whose letter she was looking for in Cam’s bedroom, where it had been hidden by his latest mistress. The slow seduction turns to friends-with-benefits and then romance. But even when it turns to marriage, Cam still has demons from the past to face down.
Another strong entry in this excellent romance series. As with the first two books, this has strong characterisation and a solid plot, with the sex scenes being an important part of showing the growth and changes in the relationship between the lead characters. One of the things I like about this series is that it has strong heroines who have their own lives to lead, and a good measure of control over those lives. And of course, women who enjoy sex and have had a sexual past. Two widows out of three heroines so far, but absolutely no virgin widows here. It’s also notable for showing a male victim of domestic violence.
I think the book is richer for having read the series in order, but would be enjoyable read as a standalone.
51) Edward Marston — Railway to the grave
Seventh in the Railway Detective series, about a Victorian detective inspector specialising in railway crime in the early days of the railways. As usual with this author, enjoyable pulp fiction that I won’t bother keeping but am glad to have read. In this one a retired Colonel commits suicide by walking into an oncoming train. Tarleton’s wife went missing a few weeks earlier, and is presumed murdered. The case might have come to Robert Colbeck in the normal course of events anyway, but there is a personal link — the dead man was a friend of Colbeck’s superior officer, from Tallis’s days as an army officer. Tallis wants his dead friend’s name cleared, and the person responsible for both deaths found. Colbeck has to persuade Tallis to leave the investigation to him, because Tallis is far too emotionally involved to do a good job.
The series in general tends to fairly cardboard characters, and Tallis has been something of a stock stereotype in spite of being a regular character, but Marston has finally begun to flesh him out a little in this book.
I’d note that the author tries to reflect period mores and attitudes in his historical mysteries, and this does mean that some of the characters’ reactions to various plot developments are not likely to sit well with much of my friends list. Colbeck himself is a broad-minded and humane man, but that simply means that he gets to clash with people who aren’t, such as the local rector who has no intention of allowing a suicide to be buried in hallowed ground.
Second of a series of romance novels about four brothers who are Scottish lords in Victorian Britain. I’d picked up the first one, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, because the reviews made it sound like the sort of romance I’d enjoy, rather than fling against the wall. I liked that book well enough to promptly order the next. Lady Isabella and Lord Mac were significant supporting characters in the first book, wherein they had been legally separated for two or three years, but were clearly still in love with each other. This book is the story of how they work towards a reconciliation, but also shows how and why they had ended up living apart. It can be read as a standalone, but I think will work better if read after the first book, as you will go in understanding some of the family backstory that explains why Mac behaves the way he does.
I don’t think this book is as strong as the first, but that was always going to be a difficult target to reach. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to being able to read the next book in the quartet.