Six Degrees of Scandal
I’ve enjoyed every book in Caroline Linden’s Scandalous series and the latest, Six Degrees of Scandal is no exception. The books are all linked by the popular 50 Ways to Sin series of erotic stories penned by the mysterious Lady Constance, a woman whose sexual encounters with men who are often thinly disguised versions of gentlemen of the ton are eagerly snapped up by those who can get their hands on them. Readers have followed Lady Constance’s uninhibited search for erotic pleasure, and society is rife with speculation as to the identity of the author. One of the draws of Six Degrees is her promised reveal – which I’m not going to spoil, other than to say that it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
For all that though, the discovery of the truth about Lady Constance is just one of many things to enjoy in this beautifully told story of love lost and regained.
A decade or so before the main story starts, we meet young Olivia Herbert and James (Jamie) Weston, and follow them briefly through adolescence and into young adulthood, charting the development of a deep and meaningful friendship that blossoms into love. When they are just seventeen and twenty-one respectively, they pledge themselves to each other and give themselves to each other in full expectation of becoming betrothed at the earliest opportunity. Olivia’s father is in desperate need of money and Jamie’s father is incredibly wealthy, so neither of them foresees any objection from either party. But Jamie, with the over-confidence and lack of foresight of youth, makes a disastrous decision which sees him leave home on his father’s business without first asking for Olivia’s hand.
Neither he nor Olivia knew how desperate the Herbert’s financial situation truly was, and even though James is absent for only a short time, he returns to find Olivia already married to Henry Townsend, whose wealthy father has paid her father’s debts in return for finding a steady wife for his somewhat rackety son.
Over the years, James has taken great pains to avoid coming into contact with Olivia, throwing himself into the various projects which have amassed him a tidy fortune. But work is no substitute for love and he has never been able to forget her or stop loving her, which is why, at the beginning of the story, he travels to Gravesend in Kent in pursuit of her at the behest of his sister Penelope, who is one of Olivia’s closest friends.
Readers of Love in the Time of Scandal will recall that the now-widowed Olivia was being threatened by the unsavoury Lord Clary, who believed her to be in possession of something of her late husband’s that he desperately wanted. Having no idea what this could be, or any knowledge of Henry’s activities, Olivia tells Clary of her ignorance, but he doesn’t believe her and begins harassing her and her friends in order to get what he wants. Scared for her life, Olivia runs, but not before she receives an unusual communication from one of Henry’s solicitors requesting the return of a record-book that should have been destroyed with all his other papers.
Suspecting that the book could shed some light on what Clary is after, Olivia refuses to hand it over, having begun to believe that Henry must have been involved in something underhand. When Jamie arrives in Gravesend, Olivia is surprised but relieved to see him, and this is one of the things I really liked about the book; Olivia isn’t too proud to accept the help he offers. Jamie knows he let her down badly all those years ago and is determined to do better this time; and I loved how his talent for logic and strategy so often help the pair of them to find another piece of the puzzle and take a step forward in their search for the truth.
While the mystery – two of them, if you count the one surrounding the identity of Lady Constance – is a key element of the storyline, it is never allowed to eclipse the rekindling of the romance between Olivia and Jamie. Their situation is a potentially perilous one and so there is no need for the author to insert silly roadblocks in order to prolong or create dramatic tension; events flow smoothly and naturally with the stakes getting gradually higher and higher as the book progresses. Of course, there is never any question that Jamie and Olivia will end up together, but that doesn’t matter because Ms Linden has written their path back to each other so beautifully, and with such maturity and understanding, that it’s a delight to read.
The characterisation of the two leads is particularly strong and their story is not so much one of a couple falling in love as it is of a couple who have always loved one another but need to grow back into love and to regain their trust in each other. Their relationship is very much one of equals. Olivia is a strong woman who is capable of doing things for herself and standing on her own two feet, but who also has the strength to admit that she doesn’t have to go it alone any more. And Jamie is just adorable. Sweet, capable and sexy, he’s a wonderful beta hero who never patronises Olivia or tries to wrap her in cotton wool – much as he would like to – because he recognizes her need to play her part in their plans and has confidence in her ability to do so.
Six Degrees of Scandal is an excellent way to end what has been one of the most consistently well-written and enjoyable historical romance series to appear in the last few years. I’m sorry to see it reach a conclusion, but am happy it’s ended on such a strong note and I know it’s a series of books I will revisit. Anyone who has been keeping up with the Westons (and the Burkes) won’t be disappointed with the way things wrap up, and for anyone who hasn’t yet read any of the series – you’re missing out, so go and get yourself a copy of Love and Other Scandals and get started!