Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel
With eye roll-inducing plot twists and a wallpaper historical setting, Lorraine Heath’s newest doesn’t rise above flat out average.
It’s a familiarly creaky plot. Eleanor Watkins is a beautiful young woman from the country out to avenge her sister’s death at the hands of an E-E-E-E-E-E-v-i-l dastardly villain (extra Es in all caps required to adequately convey the depths of his depravity). Okay, small pause: An unprepared and friendless young woman set loose in London determined to take down an evil member of the aristocracy? You just know this is going to end well.
Enter James Swindler, a character familiar to readers of previous books. Born the son of a man who was hanged when he was just a boy, James fell into the company of a gang of thieves. He also made lifelong friends with a young boy destined to be an earl, which turned out to be a good thing because not only did he end up with a bestest friend for life, he was also taken in by the young nobleman’s family and educated along with him. (Yes, it’s improbable.) Now a celebrated inspector for Scotland Yard, James is assigned to follow Eleanor because the dastardly villain (I just can’t deal with all those Es again) claims that she’s out to kill him. Which she is.
Much skulking and following later, Eleanor and James meet cute and fall into instant lust. Only she’s not telling him anything resembling the truth and he doesn’t admit that he’s a cop. One big sex scene and an off-stage murder later, James is after Eleanor, a woman he believes has committed the crime.
Honestly, I’ve been reading historical romance long enough that this plot seemed very, well…done already. And I couldn’t help but make unfavorable comparisons to a much better version, namely Mary Jo Putney’s superb Dancing on the Wind. Both books feature a sister determined to avenge her sibling, a sick villain, a stalwart hero, and a cadre of depraved noblemen engaged in faux Satanic activity. But the differences between MJP’s classic romance and this one pretty much crystallize the huge – make that really huge – gap between an average book and one that is much, much, much better.
Now, with regards to those eye roll-inducing plot twists. I can’t tell you what they are because that would definitely fall into spoiler territory. But let me just say that the words “melodramatic” and “not bloody likely” don’t even begin to cover it.
And then are the characters. Central casting, one and all. Not to even mention that the author seems to base most of James’ character development on references to his unrequited love for a woman I gather was a previous book’s heroine – the operative word for me being “gather” since I didn’t read it. As a reader who hasn’t read one of the author’s books for a while, it was flimsy. As was James. Oh, and perfect sister Eleanor, too.
On the positive side, though the author does nothing with her Victorian setting, it’s also true that the dialogue doesn’t contain any real anachronisms as so many do these days. But, set aside the gaslight and a few references to Victoria and Bertie, and this story could have taken place in any time period from about 1600 to 1920. And if the author hadn’t given us the date of 1852, I wouldn’t have had a clue.
In short, this one is average. 2D characters? Check. 2D setting? Check. Hokey plot twists? Double check. Unless you’re a big fan of the author, I’d recommend that classic MJP instead.