Daring the Devil
Leslie LaFoy excels at writing that most rare of romantic heroines – truly self-sufficient and strong women. In her first two romances, LaFoy used time travel as the medium by which to transport a modern woman into a historical setting, thereby circumventing what would otherwise be the historically inaccurate vocabulary, attitude and expectations of her heroine. In Daring the Devil, a novel set in 19th century Charlestown, Massachusetts, she needs no such premise. LaFoy gives us the inimitable Darcy O’Keefe, and the novel chronicles Darcy’s transformation from a solitary, untrusting, girl into an independent, strong and giving woman.
Darcy O’Keefe’s life is not what her doting parents once hoped for her. Though well educated and well mannered, Darcy is reduced to picking pockets for a living after her father’s untimely death. Darcy supposedly excels at her new profession, but on the first page, Darcy commits every possible error; She chooses the wrong mark, she decides to work alone rather than wait for her partner, and she does not ensure she is clean away before counting the take. As a reward for her sloppiness, she finds herself slammed up against an alley wall, crushed under the body of Aiden Terrell, and the game is afoot.
Since arriving home to his father’s house eighteen months prior, Aiden Terrell has been haunted by nightmares. He drinks himself insensible to escape the memories of the carnage he found there, the dismembered bodies of his father and his guests, and has made it his own personal quest to hunt down the man responsible – his step-brother Jules. Aiden has tracked Jules through the major capitals of Europe, always one step behind, receiving gruesome gifts from the murderer even as he eludes Aiden yet again. Now Aiden needs an entrée into Charlestown’s underworld to help him snare Jules. Darcy is blackmailed by the local ward boss into assisting Aiden while Jules creeps ever closer until the horror he incites threatens to shatter Darcy’s entire known world.
Although this is ostensibly a search for a killer, Darcy and Aiden make precious little progress toward actually finding the murderer. Darcy, for all her reputation as knowing all the ins and outs of Charlestown, never even gets close to Jules. Jules, frustrated by their lack of focus on him, plays all kind of tricks to readjust their attention. To no avail. The plot, such as it is, serves only to guarantee that Darcy and Aiden spend a great deal of time together, sleep together in the same room, and continue to engage in the spirited dialogue LaFoy writes so well. The building sexual tension between Aiden and Darcy is sufficient to distract both of them from the task at hand. It was also sufficient to distract me. I did not worry too much about Jules, except in a vague, in the back of my mind kind of way. I was too busy enjoying the book.
The premise also provides Aiden with an excuse to buy Darcy an entire new wardrobe, a cliché romance-novel scene (the snobbish French couture shop; the heroine who resists and truly does not want the clothes; the hero, overcome with desire at the sight of her paraded in her chemise and corset, who buys more for her than he had planned) that still proves very very satisfying in this novel. And ultimately the premise provides the final obstacle that Aiden and Darcy must overcome before the happy ending.
Even with the strong scenes between Darcy and Aiden, the logic of the novel breaks down in places. While Darcy remains consistent as her character develops, Aiden has too many contradictory and confusing impulses. In one paragraph he is determined to seduce Darcy and in the next he insists he has no time or interest in women while Jules remains on the loose. In one chapter he insists he will never reveal the specifics of his search to anyone and in the next he is spilling the entire story to Darcy over a bar table. The convoluted unfolding of blood ties, secondary characters and motivations serve only to remove focus from the part of the book that did work very well, that of the developing romance, and place that focus on an increasingly twisting plot. And a secondary romance written to weave through the story could have been either more or less pronounced. Currently it exists in a kind of amorphous middle ground that lends itself to a hastily drawn happy ending for this couple that seems unworthy of LaFoy.
LaFoy might have written Daring the Devil as a horror story with a romance imbedded rather than as a love story with horror imbedded. The writing is strong enough that I would have enjoyed it in either case. It would have been a better novel still had the two elements existed in equal balanced parts. The foundation of patricide, murder, and greed however, devolves quickly into a springboard for Terrell and Darcy’s love. No wonder Jules is so angry. He goes from the center of Aiden’s existence to merely providing the mechanism for Aiden’s growing relationship with Darcy. But it is ultimately a love ordered world LaFoy crafts for her characters to inhabit. Love triumphs over death, happiness over horror. And it is worth the price of admission to see what comes of Daring the Devil in LaFoy’s hands.