Desert Isle Keeper
Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
I’ve been delighted to see a number of Mary Balogh’s older titles are at last being released in audiobook format, and have eagerly pounced on each one as soon as they have been released.
The most recent to appear is Indiscreet, which was originally published in 1997 and which is the first in the author’s Horsemen Trilogy in which the heroes are all linked by bonds of comradeship forged during their military service. An added bonus is that the supremely talented Rosalyn Landor has been engaged to narrate these backlist titles, and it’s always such a relief to discover the work of a favourite author paired with a performer who can truly do it justice.
Rex Adams, Viscount Rawleigh, is one of a small party of guests who are travelling into the country to stay with his brother and family at their annual house-party. As the cavalcade of riders and equipages passes through the local village, Rex is gratified and intrigued when an attractive woman smiles at him, seemingly in invitation, and determines that, as life in the country can be very dull, a dalliance with this woman will be just the thing he needs to liven things up a bit and pull him out of the ennui into which he has fallen of late.
Catherine Winters is a widow who has lived quietly in the small village of Bodley-on-the-Water for the past five years. She is a liked and respected member of the community, spending her days teaching music to the local children, visiting the sick and elderly and living a useful life; but all that changes with the arrival of the viscount – and not for the better.
Rex and his brother, Claude, are identical twins, but even though Catherine had mistaken the viscount for his brother when they first arrived, she now wonders how she could ever have done so. Claude is a good friend to her, and while she has always recognised that he is a very handsome man, she has never been attracted to him and is surprised by the intensity of the pull she feels towards Rex. Even though she is lonely and recognises the stirrings of lust for what they are, she is determined to resist his advances and tries to deter him without actually being rude whenever they encounter each other – which is fairly often given that she is regularly invited to dinner at the Adams residence in order to make up the numbers.
But Rex will not be put off that easily; he knows Catherine is attracted to him and hopes that she will eventually succumb, even going so far as to offer her marriage – but she has her reasons and will have none of him. Furiously, he at last takes her at her word and leaves the area, but it’s too late. The damage has been done. Rex is seen leaving Catherine’s cottage late at night, and it’s not long before the village rumour mill is working at full speed, leaving her reputation in tatters. Faced with the prospect of having to leave the only place she has ever been able to call home, Catherine is scared and uncertain, knowing she has nowhere else to go. It’s only when Claude returns from a day-long meeting with his tenants that he realises what has happened and immediately sends for Rex, who must put things right in the only way possible – by marrying Catherine.
This is a wonderfully romantic story, even though it might not seem that way at the outset. Rex is quite an unappealing hero for the first part of the book because of the way he is so persistent in his pursuit of Catherine, even when makes it clear several times that she is not interested in becoming his mistress or in associating him in any way. The second part of the book is where Rex really emerges as a thoroughly worthy hero; he and Catherine have been forced together by circumstance and must make something of their marriage; and he rises to the challenge most admirably. Later, when he learns the truth about her past – which is utterly heart-breaking – he is deeply affected by her story and realises the extent of the misery he must have caused her by his selfish focus on his own desires. This part of the story is brilliantly done, as Ms Balogh has Rex not only own his poor behaviour, but come to a greater understanding of how unfairly women are treated by society through no fault of their own.
There is a strongly drawn cast of secondary characters in the book, not least of which are Claude and his wife, whose marriage receives some interesting scrutiny. While they have been married some years, are content and clearly enjoy a robust sex life, Clara’s actions towards Catherine sour things between them – or rather, they bring some problems that have existed for a while into sharper focus. Claude is very easy-going, Clara is a controlling snob; they are both going to have to make adjustments in their relationship in order to repair it, and I appreciated the maturity of the author’s approach to this aspect of the story.
Rosalyn Landor has done terrific work in all her recent recordings of Mary Balogh’s work, whether in her current Survivor’s Club series or in the newly recorded backlist titles. The excellence of her pacing and her character differentiation are always impeccable, she imbues narration and dialogue with just the right degree of emotion and expression, and her acting choices are all spot on. I particularly like the way she is able to characterise the two brothers so distinctly while leaving the listener in no doubt that the two men are related – Rex’s deep tones sound suitably haughty or aristocratically bored when necessary, while Claude’s voice has a much lighter feel to it. You can hear the sneer in the voice of Clara, Claude’s snobbish wife, and the pomposity in the vicar’s; in fact, all such little touches in the character roles add a wonderful variety of colour and nuance to the story and enhance the listening experience as a whole. One of the things I always appreciate greatly about Ms Landor’s work is that she really knows what romance listeners want to hear, whether it’s in the more intimate moments in a story, or in the verbal interactions between hero and heroine. She’s one of a handful of narrators whose name practically guarantees an audiobook purchase every time on my part, and amazingly, she’s just getting better and better.
Indiscreet is an absolutely treat in terms of both story and narration, and if you’re a fan of author, narrator or both, you won’t be disappointed. I really hope the other two books in this series (Unforgiven and Irresistible) will follow shortly, and if Ms Landor narrates them, I will definitely be pouncing as soon as they become available.
Narration: A+ and Book Content: A Unabridged. Length – 10 hours 29 minutes