A Deal With the Devil
Liz Carlyle writes in a rich style that brings to mind a nineteenth century novel. One gets the sense that her words are chosen very carefully in order to evoke the world of which she writes. In her latest novel, Carlyle rolls out a tale of murder, desperate secrets, and passion sure to please fans and attract new readers.
Aubrey Montford is the young, slightly outspoken, and very capable housekeeper of Castle Cardow. Little is known of her past and she leads a quiet life at Cardow with her young son, the castle staff, and the irascible Major Lorimer, the uncle of the castle’s owner. Giles, Earl of Walrafen, is an absentee owner who prefers pursuing a political career in London over spending time at the site of his unhappy childhood. Consequently, he is more than happy to leave the running of the castle primarily to Mrs. Montford, who updates him regularly on the state of household affairs through a series of rather pointed letters.
This pattern changes abruptly when, after learning of the violent murder of his uncle, the earl travels immediately to Castle Cardow to take part in the investigation of the crime. There he meets Aubrey Montford for the first time. Already intrigued with the young woman he knew only through her forthright letters, his initial intrigue leads to a steadily growing attraction – an attraction that becomes even stronger as suspicion beginning to swirl around her. Many at the castle, including the magistrate investigating the murder, suspect that Mrs. Montford is not quite what she seems.
Carlyle does a wonderful job of creating a mood in this novel. Her choice of words and even the old-fashioned chapter headings (“In Which Lord de Vendenheim is not Amused” and “In Which Aunt Harriet Shakes the Hornet’s Nest” are examples) create a quiet-seeming world in which much is developing below the surface. The murder of Major Lorimer, Aubrey’s secrets, and the relationship between Aubrey and Giles all seethe with an ever increasing tension that develops masterfully.
Carlyle also excels at creating three-dimensional characters. Aubrey’s quiet competence, intelligence, and basic goodness are evident not because they are pointed out, but because the reader consistently sees these qualities in action. Likewise, Giles is shown in his offices, working and discussing politics and it is not difficult at all to believe that he is an ambitious and thoughtful public official. In addition, characters from some of Carlyle’s previous novels make appearances, but, this is not a series where it is necessary to read the books in order. Each character in this story serves his or her own purpose and stands alone very nicely.
Were it not for the overtone of coercion and misuse of power in the initial development of the relationship between Aubrey and Giles, I would unreservedly put this novel on my keeper shelf. However, the imbalance of power between the hero and heroine here was not something with which I could be entirely comfortable.
However, in spite of that plot point, I found this novel extremely enjoyable. The tension between the hero and heroine was well-rendered for the most part and Liz Carlyle has again done a marvelous job of creating a bygone world. A Deal With the Devil is definitely a book to sink into and savor.