A Lady's Guide to Deception and Desire
Manda Collins’ A Lady’s Guide series adds another chapter with the romantic historical mystery A Heiress’ Guide to Deception and Desire, which gives us Caroline and Val’s story. The memorable heroine and fun mystery helped put this one above a C for me, but a lack of true originality holds it back from an A.
Miss Caroline Hardcastle is a crime columnist, one half of a writing duo who chronicles all of the most notorious murders taking place in London. Her activities, which include writing cookbooks inspired by the victuals produced by her father’s food factory, have made her notorious enough to dissuade her now-former fiancé, Valentine Thorn – newly made Viscount Wrackham after the unexpected death of his older brother – from marrying her. Caroline refuses to knuckle under and please Val’s more traditional mores; instead she stays true to herself, even though his choice has broken her heart. While Val regrets giving in to social pressure and wants to prove to Caro he can be a good swain, it seems he’ll never have the chance to prove himself.
But fate isn’t done with Caro or Val yet. Caro’s dear friend, Miss Effie Warrington, has been kidnapped – and the only witness is Frank Thorn, Val’s dissolute cousin and Effie’s wayward suitor, whom Val keeps an eye on in the hope of keeping him from disgracing the Thorn name. Though Caro leans on her partner Kate (A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem), she also has to lean on Val to help track down Effie. Evidence soon surfaces that things are less than rosy between Frank and Effie – and Caro and Val’s pursuit of the case results in them being caught looking disheveled together in the lobby of a theater in front of her father’s important business contacts. Since Caro fears the ensuing scandal will ruin her father’s business, she and Val agree to enter into a marriage of convenience. Can they resist one another for long enough to solve Effie’s kidnapping?
A Heiress’ Guide to Deception and Desire is quick-footed and sprightly, and features a true marriage of equals. Caro is delightful – smart, resourceful, vulnerable but determined to make her own way in the world while Val, who had been immature and was once a bit of a libertine, has rounded out into a mature man. He wants Caro back but, of course, he’s too stubborn to say so.
Caro and Val are a symphony of sames – they work exceedingly well together on the case and realize this will extend to the bedroom and beyond. The key, of course, is to get there and stop being stubborn about past hurts along the way. While the romance they build together is perfectly fine, I feel as if I’ve read the independent-woman-gets-stuck-in-marriage-of-convenience plot a million times, and Collins doesn’t quite manage to make this one unique.
The aurhor’s research is pretty solid, and she manages to keep Caro independent while not underplaying the historical setting in which she is placed. The book worked well for me, but I didn’t find it to be particularly exceptional – though it was a definite step up from the first book in the series.