Devil in the Dark
I appreciate a good Gothic romance; as a teenager I cut my reading teeth on the works of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis A. Whitney. So I welcomed the news that LoveSpell was going to publish a line devoted to Gothics. But I gotta tell you, if Devil in the Dark is any indication of quality, I’m going to be spending more time re-reading my old keepers than picking up anything else in this line.
Lucinda Fairfax sails from New York to her ancestral home in Yorkshire. Her father, who abandoned his wife and daughter years ago after he inherited a viscountcy, has died under mysterious circumstances, and Lucinda is coming to claim her inheritance. On her first night at Craven Manor, she encounters an enigmatic stranger in the garden, a dark and brooding man to whom she’s instantly attracted. She learns he is her neighbor Gideon, the Devil Duke of Blackthorne, a man with deep secrets in his past.
Despite the warnings of servants and townfolk, Lucinda meets Gideon again, and again, and again. She becomes convinced that behind his aloof, detached manner lurks a tortured man in need of compassion and love. His kisses make her forget any suspicions she may harbor about him: was Gideon involved in her father’s death? Is he the one who shot at her while she was out riding alone? And what really happened when his father and brother Geoffrey died, ten years ago?
Although the book is 380 pages long, the plot seems awfully thin and simplistic – formula writing at its weakest. There are no original twists to the story. Lucinda is at best a two-dimensional character. Her ambivalence toward her father and his abandonment of his family is the only indication of depth I could find; other than that she comes off like a naïve teenager for most of the story. That’s more than I can say about Gideon: he’s the typical dark stranger, with nothing to distinguish him from hundreds of other dark strangers who’ve gone before him.
The plot is filled with a plethora of gothic clichés: woman arrives in a new place, learns of mysterious past events, meets tall, dark stranger, ignores advice and follows her heart, faces danger, falls in love, is handed the solution to a transparent mystery, and heals wounds of her hero. The end. The dialogue is stilted, the writing wooden and forced. Secondary characters read as if they were pulled from a writer’s notebook of archetypes: the perky lady’s maid, the dour-faced housekeeper, the dignified butler, various gossipy neighbors who give Lucinda the dirt about everything. We’ve met all these people in other books, and they are eminently forgettable. Characters march into the story, do their part in advancing the plot, and promptly disappear, with no chance to develop as real people.
Even the heavy-handed symbolism of the protagonists’ names had me rolling my eyes. “Lucinda” means light, and her last name is Fairfax, while Gideon is the Duke of Blackthorne – get it? There is nothing subtle about these characters, or this book, and I cannot recommend it to readers in search of a good Gothic. My advice? Find an old copy of Mistress of Mellyn or Madam, Will You Talk?, if you want to know how it’s supposed to be done.