Moonlight on My Mind
This is Ms McQuiston’s third book in the series that began with What Happened in Scotland and continued with Summer is for Lovers, and it presents a decided change of tone to that of the previous books.
Moonlight on my Mind is more of a romantic mystery than a straightforward romance, and while I found it to be a fast-paced and enjoyable read overall, I came away from it not completely convinced by either the mystery orthe romance.
Our heroine is Miss Julianne Baxter, who was one of the secondary characters in Summer is for Lovers. In that story she is presented as a beautiful, vivacious, and slightly fast young woman who is very well aware of her personal attractions and the effect she has on men, and who flirts her way through life with an eye to making an advantageous match.
At the beginning of this book, she is very much the same Julianne when we meet her at a ball given by the Earl of Haversham at his country house in Yorkshire. Deeming the earl’s heir to be an ideal match, Julianne decides that the best way to secure his notice will be to make him jealous by dancing first with his brother, Mr Patrick Channing. Patrick, who has just returned from the stables (indeed, he spends most of the book in a state of dishevelment!) when Julianne grabs him, is well aware of the sort of young woman she is and her reasons for singling him out – but he dances with her anyway, steals a toe-curling kiss, and then leaves her to her machinations.
Eleven months later, Julianne is nearing the end of a trying journey to the small Scottish town of Moraig in order to find Patrick and bring him back home. The day after the ball when they’d danced, Patrick’s brother Eric was shot and killed, and Patrick is the prime suspect in his murder should the authorities rule that Eric’s death was not an accident. Julianne was the only witness to the incident and her information, coupled with the fact that Patrick was seen covered in blood, served to worsen the case against him. Not wanting to inflict his presence on his grieving family, Patrick removes to Scotland, and no-one but his father – who believes him innocent of the crime – knows where he is.
Given the circumstances, Julianne is the last person Patrick either expects or wants to see in Moraig. In the intervening months, she has come to the realisation that she was wrong about what she saw and knows that Patrick is innocent. She feels guilty for her actions and wants to make amends by helping him to prove it. On impulse, she travels to Moraig to break the news of his father’s recent death and to tell him that he needs to return home immediately, for the sake of his mother and sisters, if not for himself. He is naturally suspicious of both the information and her motives – she practically accused him of murder, after all.
Patrick has had enough of her meddling and wants nothing more than to get rid of her as soon as possible. He doesn’t want her help, fearing that any more of her interference will just make things worse, but has no idea how to stop her from getting involved. His friend, James MacKenzie (hero of What Happens in Scotland) points out that there is one very efficient way of preventing Julianne from saying anything to make things worse, which would be to marry her, as a wife cannot be compelled to testify against her husband.
The idea appalls him – but makes a certain kind of sense. Patrick doesn’t like Julianne, but can’t deny that he’s attracted to her and would find certain aspects of being married to her to be no hardship at all. Persuading her that her unchaperoned visit to both the village and his home threaten to compromise her reputation, Patrick and Julianne take a trip to the local blacksmith to tie the knot.
After a disappointing wedding night, the awkward newly-weds then travel to Yorkshire in company with MacKenzie, who continues on to London in order to set certain legal proceedures into motion. They arrive at Summersby to a cautious welcome. Many of the family members and friends who attended the late Earl’s funeral are still at the house, and are not at all pleased to see Julianne again – even less so when they learn she is now Patrick’s wife.
Julianne is made of stern stuff, however, and refuses to be intimidated or belittled by any of them, even Patrick’s snide cousin Jonathon Blythe, whom she begins to suspect of more than being merely envious of Patrick’s new wealth and position.
I felt, while reading the book, that it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be – a mystery or a romance. The whodunnit worked well, but the romance didn’t quite do it for me. Patrick and Julianne begin the book wary of each other, although there is an undeniable undercurrent of attraction running between them. But I didn’t get a real sense of their relationship developing. It changed certainly, but the changes felt choppy, rather than organic. Patrick went from distrust (with a fair bit of lust) to liking/admiration and then love but each step just ‘happened’ rather than evolving. Julianne changes most throughout the book, and I particularly liked the way Ms McQuiston presented her as a multi-layered character, the outer shell of inveterate gossip and outrageous flirt masking a more thoughtful, intelligent young woman who is capable of admitting her mistakes and trying to make them right. She is also a perfect complement to Patrick in that, as a second son who was determined on making his own way in life, he hasn’t much idea of how to go on now he is an earl – whereas Julianne is very much up to snuff when it comes to the behaviour that is expected of a peer of the realm and his wife.
As I’ve said above, Moonlight on My Mind is an enjoyable read, but it was full of plot-holes big enough to drive a fleet of trucks through, the biggest of which was that Julianne’s so-called evidence is flimsy at best and utterly ridiculous at worst. I found it really difficult to believe she could have levelled such an accusation at Patrick, especially given that she knows the evidence wasn’t actually hers to give. The willingness with which the dowager countess handed over the reins of the household to Julianne seemed implausible, given the circumstances, and even though I didn’t suspect the identity of the villain until near the end, I found the resolution to be a bit too far-fetched for my taste.
On the plus side, the writing is good, as is the characterisation of the two principals, both of whom are far from perfect and feel that little bit more real because of it. I enjoyed the way Patrick developed from a man who had little patience or interest in titles or society into one who realised that he was more than capable of running an earldom; and Julianne’s transformation from spoiled brat to a capable, loving and loyal wife was very well done indeed.
So I’m giving the book a recommendation despite the flaws I’ve mentioned. I enjoyed it enough to have read it in one sitting, and I think that in the final tally, the positive points outweigh the negative ones.