Desert Isle Keeper
After the Scandal
Elizabeth Essex is the best historical romance author you’re not reading. Fix that!
Tanner Evans, the Duke of Fenmore, has led a colorful life. His father, a younger son, was cut off from the family, and when both parents and the uncle died, Tanner and his sister Meggs spent years on the street before Tanner was tracked down as the heir. He’s an outsider in the ton but an insider in the government, for whom he uses his street connections to solve mysteries and crimes. Claire Jellicoe, by contrast, is the consummate insider: a striking blonde society beauty who’s been sheltered all her life. Until, that is, a would-be rapist whisks her into the gardens at a party, and Tanner is the only one who notices.
Tanner’s been in love with Claire from a distance, in a ‘she’s an above my touch’ kind of way. He seizes the chance to do her a service, but more than that, he recognizes that his intervention will compromise Claire and force her to marry him instead. It’s an interesting bit of shady morality from a hero. But after he saves Claire, she and he stumble across a body, and a new course for the evening is set. Claire, recognizing the body as her maid, surprises Tanner and herself by deciding to throw in with Tanner and pursue justice.
I’m not well-versed in mysteries, but I’d characterize this as a procedural rather than a whodunnit. The characters follow one clue after another to the various experts who can help them draw conclusions and send them on to the next expert. The point isn’t suspense; it’s obtaining justice for a nasty villain and seeing Tanner and Claire brought closer together by a joint purpose. Tanner is forced to show his underworld roots to Claire in all their dirty reality, because these people and places make the unsolvable mystery solvable. Claire, meanwhile, discovers in herself a sense of giddy adventure and a game willingness to take risks. She is not, however, implausible. Her usefulness to Tanner and the investigation is believable in a sheltered debutante: she speaks sympathetically to the victim’s mother, eliciting information; she waits with a boat to facilitate Tanner’s rapid escape; ultimately, she finds courage to stand up to her parents.
After the Scandal unfolds continuously – nearly every hour that elapses between Claire’s assault and the climax is narrated. (Occasionally, this drags, and you wish the book would skip forward just a half hour or so). It’s not until you step back that you realize Claire’s been with Tanner for just under two days, which is fast to completely pivot from her previous life. Still, quality and intensity of time can often forge a relationship more strongly than mere quantity, and I didn’t find this problematic.
This is a detailed historical. Essex clearly knows her setting, from the details of river transport to the technicalities that an autopsy could reveal in the early 1800s. The society aspects of the setting as related to Claire are strong as well, especially the role of pressure and scandal to maintain face. (The ‘scandal’ of the title is the courtship of Tanner’s sister in a previous book; you don’t have to have read that to enjoy this one). That said, I had some trouble suspending disbelief that Tanner, the third in line to a dukedom, ran ragtag with street gangs for years and has maintained his shady connections in his new life. He also seems to have no responsibilities other than spy missions. I would have preferred it if the author had avoided the nobility altogether and gone instead with, say, nephew or godson of filthy rich nabob, but dukes sell better.
If you like historical mysteries, heroines discovering their own agency, and heroes who have meaningful jobs and get them done, this is the book for you. Highly recommended.