Beneath a Silent Moon
Note: This review contains slight spoilers for earlier books in the series.
If you’ve not been reading Tracy Grant, you really have been missing out. Her Rannoch/Fraser series of romantic suspense features a compelling relationship, fascinating characters and worldbuilding that I just love. If you’re not familiar with the series, it may require a touch of explanation. The series originally started with two books published by Avon, Daughter of the Game (later reissued as Secrets of a Lady) and Beneath a Silent Moon. Those books featured the escapades of Charles and Melanie Fraser. The publisher did not renew for further books in the series, but Grant was later picked up by Kensington. The one hitch was that she would need to find new names for her characters. So, Charles and Melanie became Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch.
It takes some getting used to, but the whole series is worth the added touch of effort. If you check out any of these books on Goodreads, you’ll find the series listed in chronological order with a note from the author’s website about suggested reading order. Personally, I skipped over the first couple of e-novellas and started with Vienna Waltz. I’ve been able to keep up with the series without confusion and that particular novel was a very strong entry to the series. I’ve not reviewed all the Rannoch/Fraser books for AAR since I started reading years after the books were released, but I have been reviewing them on my Goodreads account as I read.
For those not familiar, Charles Fraser is a British diplomat who worked as a spy during the war. He has connections to a very powerful aristocratic family, and his star is on the rise. During the war, he married the pregnant Melanie, a young Frenchwoman, and accepted her child as his own. Charles is aware that Melanie was involved in spying herself, and she has in fact assisted him on some of his diplomatic missions overseas. However, what is known to the reader but not to Charles is that at least in the beginning, Melanie was working at cross-purposes to Charles. Melanie feels deeply conflicted concerning her past loyalties and this conflict has been gradually working to a head over the course of the series.
This particular installment of the series is set in 1817. The war and related intrigues are now in the past, and the Frasers must return to England, where Charles has duties and obligations as the oldest son. As the novel opens, everyone is present at a party at which Charles’ father Kenneth announces his engagement to Honoria Talbot, the niece and ward of Kenneth’s best friend. Given that Honoria is much younger (she was a childhood love of Charles Fraser, in fact), the news stuns more than a few in attendance and causes great family consternation.
Shortly after these startling events, Charles and Melanie are called out to meet an old contact from their days in Spain. As they go to meet him, the man is shot down by a sniper. Before he dies, he mentions Honoria to them. Given that Honoria has no known ties to espionage, diplomacy or the war, this is understandably quite unsettling.
From here, the action eventually shifts to the country estate of Dunmykel and a shadowy group known as the Elsinore League,thought to be a ring of former Bonapartists. The entire cast of friends and family heads to Dunmykel for a house party celebrating Kenneth Fraser’s betrothal and there the family intrigues and spycraft start to collide. The tale is a complex but very interesting one. The complicated family dynamics and long-held secrets start simmering to the surface and mingle with the outside action to create quite a lot of tension.
Because the story contains several layers of conflict to it, I sometimes found myself rereading scenes trying to figure out what made some of these characters tick. And seeing Charles with his family for such a prolonged period did give me insight into him that I didn’t have before. Given his father’s behavior, his habit of keeping things bottled up inside made a lot more sense. I could see how much he did not want to be like his father, and much is shown in this book of how he and Melanie try to grow closer to one another. They truly did start off with a marriage of convenience, over the course of the books, it has deepened into one of passion and complex emotion.
As with all of Grant’s books that I’ve read, the writing here is stylistically very good. She writes very vivid scenes, and her characters tend to be complex and layered. In most of her books, she is weaving together many strands of plot and that is the case here as well. I did note there were a few more bobbles with the pacing and structure than in some of her other novels. However, while this is the seventh installment in the series, it was actually the second book in the series that Grant wrote. With that knowledge, I can see where her writing has grown over time, with some of the roughness I saw particularly in the latter half of this book being smoothed out by the time later novels were published.
Even with some rushed action and a couple dangling plot threads, Beneath a Silent Moon is still a very engaging read. I have enjoyed each of my trips to this version of Regency England, and I highly recommend this to anyone who likes historical mysteries and romantic suspense. If you’re new to the series, I would recommend starting either with one of the opening novellas or with the excellent Vienna Waltz.