To put it kindly, the novels of Michele Jaffe have not done well with my fellow AAR reviewers. Either she’s gotten better, or my sense of humor is in sync with hers, because I think Lady Killer is a hoot.
The plot is complex and openly ridiculous. The heroine is Lady Clio Thornton, a female Elizabethan Sherlock Holmes, who has solved over 200 cases and who has become so famous that her house is a tourist attraction. She is also an impoverished somnambulist, the black sheep of her family, and her best friend is a sentient monkey whose tracking skill rivals a bloodhound’s. The hero is Miles Loredan, Viscount Dearborn, who is not only one of the six most rich and powerful men in Europe (by an astonishing coincidence they are all cousins), but is England’s spymaster who orchestrated the defeat of the Spanish Armada. His code name is Three and he and his agents refer to their employer, tersely, as Queen E. Miles is honor-bound to marry Mariana Nonesuch, a truly strange person whom Miles despises. Mariana is Clio’s cousin.
Clio is investigating the mysterious death of a young doll-maker whose body was marked by two puncture marks to the throat. Could it be that the Vampire of London has returned for yet another killing spree? Everyone knows that Miles killed the Vampire three years ago – or did he? Soon Clio and Miles are both investigating the incident, and the fact that he is to marry her cousin in no way defuses their attraction.
Clio has been having episodes of sleepwalking and forgetfulness, and immediately after one of these a second body is found in her bedroom. Clio becomes convinced that she is the Vampire. Miles, to convince her otherwise, offers to imprison her until the next body is found, which is the only thing that will prove to her that she is not the murderer. Of course, matters are not that simple. (If you want to call that simple.)
If you’re beginning to get the idea that maybe this isn’t historically accurate, you’d be right on the money. The more you know about Elizabethan England, the more suspension your disbelief is going to require. But to complain about the historical inaccuracy of the book is to miss the point of the huge joke the author is telling. I mean – a secret agent named Three? Who knows there’s urgent work to be done when his clock strikes three, and who goes to his secret headquarters by entering the clock? I almost expected him to emerge in the Bat Cave. Lady Killer is no more about Tudor England than the movie Moulin Rouge was about 19th century France, and Jaffe does everything but have her characters sing Elton John songs to make sure her readers know it.
I liked the relationship between Miles and Clio. It is impossible to take either of them at all seriously, which in this book is a good thing. Their repartee is often very funny, and their love scenes are so hot I debated whether to give this book the Burning rating. I found it interesting the way that, well into the book, we’re still learning things about their pasts that come as a surprise.
Although I liked this book, there are plenty of frustrating moments. The plot summary I gave barely describes the tip of the iceberg. There are disguises, ambushes, swordfights, secrets, pranks, poisoned letters, extremely bizarre secondary characters, and several silly misunderstandings. It’s uncomfortably overstuffed. The point of view hops from character to character with wild abandon, and there moments when we are jerked from one scene to the next very awkwardly.
Jaffe has a very idiosyncratic writing style that is sometimes amusing, more often annoying. It often resolves itself into paragraph-long lists, and Jaffe is far too fond of heavy-handed foreshadowing. Almost every chapter contains a sentence similar to this one: “Before the clock struck midnight, things would become much more interesting than any of them had bargained for.” As the book progressed, my cheerful “yeah, okay, whatever” mood was severely strained, especially in the book’s outrageous and increasingly tedious climax.
To sum up: I enjoyed Lady Killer, but I can easily see how the book might be a major wall-banger for others. You could look at the chaotic descriptions, non-historical characters, Rube Goldberg machine of a plot, and say, “This is completely preposterous.” And you’d be right. But if you’re willing to leave logic far behind and forget everything you ever learned in history class, Lady Killer is loads of fun.