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Desert Isle Keeper

A Dangerous Deceit

Alissa Johnson

I am at a loss to understand why Alissa Johnson doesn’t seem to get the same kind of attention afforded to the ‘big-name’ authors of historical romance.  Every book of hers I’ve read has been superbly written, featuring well-drawn, three-dimensional characters, a well-constructed plot, subtle humour and a beautifully developed romance – yet for some reason, she’s very underrated.  This third book in her Thief Takers series is another intelligently crafted character-driven romance, this time featuring a devilishly charming private investigator and a most unusual heroine who are forced to go on the run in order to protect some sensitive government information.

A Dangerous Deceit begins when Miss Jane Ballenger opens her front door on the extremely attractive face and person of Sir Gabriel Arkwright, one of the famous Thief Takers, a trio of former police officers who became instant celebrities when they solved a high-profile case of theft and rescued a duchess some ten or eleven years earlier.  The most senior officer – Owen Renderwell – received a viscountcy and his colleagues, Arkwright and Samuel Brass were knighted; and the three of them went into business together as private investigators.  Renderwell’s and Sir Samuel’s stories are told in the two previous books (A Talent for Trickery and A Gift for Guile), but all three work perfectly well as standalones – although I’d definitely recommend reading them, as they’re every bit as well-written and enjoyable as this one.

Sir Gabriel explains that he has been engaged by the Foreign Office to come to Jane’s remote cottage in order to retrieve some important information that is hidden among the personal effects belonging to her late brother, Edgar.  Edgar spent the past fifteen years living the high life in St. Petersburg, frittering away his sister’s fortune as well as his own, leaving Jane with next to nothing.  Now she is faced with the prospect of selling off his possessions so that she can keep a roof over her head and continue to support herself and the Harmons, the couple who have lived with her and looked after her since she was ten years old.

Jane is flustered – her tiny cottage is crammed to the rafters with trunks and boxes and God knows what else – but isn’t about to let someone waltz off with what is likely her only source of funds without some sort of security and insists that Sir Gabriel sign a contract promising the return of the goods once he has found what he is looking for.

Gabriel is not pleased at the delay, knowing that the information he is seeking poses a great danger to Jane and her household.  But he plays along and agrees to Jane’s terms, arranging for his team of handpicked men to make a start on the search as soon as they have finalised their agreement.  When, however, a group of men headed by Foreign Office agent Oscar Kray arrives instead of the team he had requested, Gabriel realises something is wrong, and quickly and quietly gets Jane and the Harmons away from the cottage and into the village.  It soon becomes clear that isn’t going to be far enough away and that Kray will stop at nothing to get hold of the paperwork he believes Gabriel has already found and appropriated.

From then on in, the story becomes a road-trip/adventure yarn whereby Gabriel and Jane have to evade the clutches of Kray and his team and get the sensitive paperwork sent back by Edgar into the right hands.  The couple has to get out of some tight spots and there’s never a dull moment, but there’s time for romance and getting to know each other, too – and it’s here that Ms. Johnson’s gifts for storytelling and characterisation really come into their own.  While Gabriel and Jane fall in love over a very short time – just a few days – they are so well-developed as characters, and their affinity for each other is so strong that it feels as though they – and we – have known each other for far longer, so there is never the sense that things between them are progressing too quickly.

Gabriel is gorgeous – handsome, charming and protective, he’s the perfect hero. Almost. Because he’s also devious and manipulative, and he lies to Jane repeatedly throughout the course of the story.  The earlier books in the series have shown Gabriel to be incredibly good at reading people and thus working out exactly how to approach them to get the desired result.   Jane, however presents more of a challenge than anyone he’s ever met; she’s rude, she doesn’t appear to have a sense of humour, she’s easily distracted, she’s fiercely independent …  and it’s difficult to get a read on her,  which makes Gabriel’s job that bit trickier.  He hates lying to Jane and hates himself for doing it, but ultimately, everything he says and does is because he wants to keep her safe.  He’s also extremely kind, sensitive and understanding, seeing what Jane terms her ‘affliction’ as a set of quirks, for the first time affording her the chance to find out what it might be like to have the one thing she has always believed to be beyond her reach – a normal life.

Ms. Johnson says in her author’s note that she set herself quite the challenge when she decided to write a heroine with CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Disorder).   Of course, in the late Victorian era, when this book is set, the condition was unknown, and people who had it were dismissed as being, at best, hard of hearing, or at worst, imbecilic, deviant or even insane.  Jane is none of those things of course – but the treatment she received at the hands of her family, and mistakes she has made as a result of misunderstandings have made her very wary of mixing with people and fearful of being mocked and shunned.  One website I visited in an attempt to find out more said that people with this condition “can’t process what they hear in the same way other people do because their ears and brain don’t fully coordinate. Something interferes with the way the brain recognizes and interprets sounds, especially speech.” – and the author does an absolutely terrific job of showing how this affects Jane, right from the opening lines:

“Hit a miss dress a tome?”

Jane Ballenger carefully considered these six words and the gentleman on her doorstep who had just delivered them.

He didn’t look like a madman.

“Is she at home?  She should be expecting me.”

At home… A tome

Miss dress.  Mistress

Mistress at home.

Is your mistress at home?

The condition is not limited to these sorts of mix-ups; sometimes, for example, it affects Jane’s ability to remember information, or to pick out one person’s words from a noisy background. Ms. Johnson portrays the disorder subtly and sensitively, showing clearly that Jane is so much more than her ‘affliction’; that she’s an intelligent, insightful and compassionate human being with some ‘quirks’ (Gabriel’s term) that don’t define her and shouldn’t be allowed to limit her.

Gabriel’s unconditional acceptance of Jane is what turns him into the best type of romantic hero.  His own backstory and the intrinsic self-loathing that accompanies his lies and manipulations add depth and colour to his personality, but his perceptiveness and understanding when it comes to Jane and his willingness to compromise for her sake are what make him that little bit special and elevate him from your run-of-the-mill dashing hero into one who is admirable and entirely loveable.

A Dangerous Deceit is a book to be savoured, even though I was unable to resist devouring it in a couple of sittings!  The romance is sweet and tender – but not without its heated moments – and the adventure plot is solidly developed and skilfully incorporated into the romantic storyline without overshadowing it. Characters from the earlier books make cameo appearances, and I especially appreciated another glimpse of the strong and highly entertaining friendship that exists between Gabriel, Samuel and Renderwell.  Fans of character-driven historical romance shouldn’t miss it, and I really hope to read more from Ms. Johnson in the not too distant future.

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Caz Owens


Grade :     A-


Sensuality :      Warm


Book Type :     


Review Tags :     


Recent Comments

25 Comments

  1. Kristen Donnelly
    Kristen Donnelly June 12, 2017 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    I’ve read a few too many books based on lies recently, so my antenna is up at your description of Gabriel’s choices. Is the deceit a big deal or does it get resolved quickly?

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 12, 2017 at 1:52 pm - Reply

      I don’t think it’s a big deal – everything Gabriel does is to keep Jane safe, and I never find those sorts of lies offensive – he’s a former policeman and investigator and is used to making key decisions quickly and without reference to anyone else. He’s not patronising her, but doesn’t always have the time to explain fully and thus takes short cuts to get them out of tricky situations. Ultimately, they hash it out like adults – no stomping and flouncing!

  2. Heather Stanton
    Heather Stanton June 12, 2017 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Right?! I DIK’d Nearly a Lady by her some time back and thought she was an HR rising star, so I too am surprised that she hasn’t received more attention. I’ll be one-clicking this one as well since I believe she’s a talented storyteller.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 12, 2017 at 3:34 pm - Reply

      I think she’s a head and shoulders above most of the other HR writers out there – the big publishing houses have signed up some very mediocre authors over the last few years. The others in this series were published by Sourcebooks, yet this is self-published. I am drawing my own conclusions, but hope that self-publishing will give her more freedom and mean we’ll get more from her soon.

  3. Susanne Lord June 12, 2017 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Thank you for reviewing, even though this 3rd book in the series is independently published. The story sounds so compelling, I had to 1-click it!

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 12, 2017 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Suzanne. I’m only sorry I had no idea it was coming out until I stumbled across a review on Goodreads – and then I had to have it!

      • Susanne Lord June 16, 2017 at 9:38 pm - Reply

        Loved these flawed characters! Thanks for reviewing. Now I’m eager to try the next two in The Thief Takers series.

  4. Blackjack June 12, 2017 at 6:29 pm - Reply

    I want to read this now after reading the review! I’ve not read Alissa Johnson before.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 13, 2017 at 3:40 am - Reply

      The whole series is very good and well worth reading – I reviewed the other books as well and rated them highly.

  5. Amanda June 12, 2017 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    I read the second book in this series and it was excellent. Had no idea this one was out now.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 13, 2017 at 3:38 am - Reply

      I didn’t, either, Amanda. The first two were published by Sourcebooks so featured on their new release mailings, but this one is self-pinned and I found about it by accident because one of my GR friends had listed it.

  6. Keira Soleore
    Keira Soleore June 12, 2017 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    What a great review! A book not to be missed from a new-to-me author.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 13, 2017 at 11:32 am - Reply

      Thanks, Keira. I can definitely recommend the other books in this series and while I haven’t read all her other books, I’ve very much enjoyed those I have read.

  7. library addict June 12, 2017 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    I haven’t started her Thief Takers series yet, but enjoyed most of the other books of hers I have read. I even voted for 3 of her books in the last Top 100 poll.

    I bought the first two books in the trilogy, but will wait to get this one until it releases as an ePub from Kobo or somewhere.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 13, 2017 at 3:42 am - Reply

      I could only find it at Amazon – some self-pubbing authors only publish there but perhaps AJ will get round to publishing in other formats soon.

  8. nblibgirl June 13, 2017 at 1:35 am - Reply

    Sounds like an author and book to be read. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  9. HopefulPuffin June 13, 2017 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    I started Nearly a Lady ages ago and on paper (so to speak) it had everything I love – tortured heroes especially. I don’t know why but I just never finished it. I got about a quarter of the way through. From what I recall, I was expecting more interaction between the h & H. Or something. Maybe I’ll go back and try it again since it’s on KU.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 13, 2017 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      This is pretty much a two-hander in that the H/h are together almost all the way through.

      • Dabney Grinnan
        Dabney Grinnan June 13, 2017 at 10:23 pm - Reply

        Two-hander?

        • Caz Owens
          Caz Owens June 14, 2017 at 9:00 am - Reply

          Like in a play where there are only two characters; most of the book is just Gabriel and Jane together. There are secondary characters, but once the H/h go on the run, they’re on their own for much of the time.

  10. HopefulPuffin June 14, 2017 at 9:10 am - Reply

    I have to admit, the idea of a character with auditory processing disorder is fascinating and it’s because of the snippet you posted I’m going to try this one. I remember the first time I read Flowers from the Storm and was trying to figure out Jervaulx’s dialogue. I was amazed by Kinsale’s writing.

    I just checked and this is also KU so no harm done if I don’t like it. But I think I might!

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 14, 2017 at 10:37 am - Reply

      I think the author handles it really well. Sometimes, the reader can work out what Jane is hearing and sometimes not – but then Jane can ‘t always work it out either. I hope you enjoy it – do drop back and let me know what you thought!

    • Blackjack
      Blackjack June 17, 2017 at 12:57 am - Reply

      Yes, the hearing disorder is something that caught my attention and piqued my interest too!

  11. nblibgirl June 18, 2017 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    Am half-way through A Talent for Trickery (the first novel in this series – sorry, I can’t not read in order when it is pointed out that there is a series) and am so glad you reviewed this one! I will definitely be making my way through this trilogy and then probably Johnson’s backlist. Lovely prose, dry humor, interesting characters . . . yay, a new author discovered!

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 19, 2017 at 7:23 am - Reply

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying it 🙂 My introduction to her books was Nearly a Lady, which I also loved, so can strongly recommend.

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