May McGoldrick is a pseudonym for Jim and Nikoo McGoldrick, a husband-and-wife writing team. They’ve collaborated on at least six novels – a miracle in itself, considering my husband and I can barely compose a grocery list together. Flame centers around Gavin Kerr, a secondary character from Heart of Gold, one of the McGoldricks’ prior works. If I can find it, I’m going to read it.
Ancient, cursed and haunted Ironcross Castle has just come into the possession of Gavin Kerr. He doesn’t need it; doesn’t particularly want it as he has holdings enough of his own. But when Lady MacInnes asks Gavin to go to Ironcross to retrieve her granddaughter Joanna’s portrait, Gavin becomes intrigued. For Joanna MacInnes is dead – killed in a fire six months ago that took both of Joanna’s parents and many servants as well. Nobody knows who is responsible – they only know the curse of Ironcross has taken yet another of its lairds. Gavin wants to know why.
When Gavin arrives, he sees a window shutter closing in the burnt-out tower of the South Wing and begins to suspect the huge castle holds more secrets than he anticipated. Is someone hiding in the tower or beneath the castle in one of its hundreds of hidden passageways? Absolutely.
Beautiful Joanna didn’t die in the fire that claimed the lives of her parents, but she has hidden herself away within the walls of the ravaged South Wing, wearing only the burnt rags she was left in. Her bandaged hands have only begun to heal and her only meals are bits of bread and cheese stolen in the dark of night. Joanna has become a ghost, waiting for the moment to wreak revenge against those she suspects of killing her family.
But does Joanna really know who plotted against her family? She has her suspicions, but doesn’t clearly put all the pieces together without help from Gavin. Joanna and Gavin meet after someone sets fire to his bed while he sleeps, and Joanna, having vowed to protect the new laird even though he’s unaware of her existence, appears through a hidden panel in his room to awaken him and save his life. Gavin has been in love with Joanna ever since he saw her portrait, and is astonished and gladdened to learn she is not a phantom after all.
Flame is a mystery as much as it is a romance. I love a good mystery, and this one had me going for quite a while. I can usually spot the killer(s? ), but there are enough false leads, secondary characters with motives, and tantalizing clues to keep me guessing. Although I did pretty much figure out who-dunnit, there were enough red herrings to have me questioning myself throughout the story. Even though I thought I knew who, I just didn’t know why. When the truth is revealed, it is shocking, and I was very glad that times of olde, when individuals were given unquestioned power over others, have passed away into history, never, I hope, to return. Resist the urge to read ahead. Let the mystery and the romance unfold. There are many characters, many stories within the story, and you’ll enjoy yourself more if you allow yourself to be surprised.
Gavin is a good hero, smart, sympathetic and complex. Joanna is not as fully-drawn as Gavin and I wasn’t always sure of her reasoning about the things she did, but Joanna and Gavin together create some real sparks (pun intended). The authors have a style quirk that bothered me in places (too detailed to go into here), but the plot moved quickly forward, and I was turning pages to beat-the-band toward the end of the story. There is one secondary character that I grew very attached to, and hope that this person’s story will generate a sequel (I can’t say who it is because then you’ll know this person is a suspect who turned out to be an ally).
Flame is a rousing good read, and I can recommend it.