Nightingale’s Gate is a murder mystery/romance set in the shady world of a Boston gentlemen’s club. Unfortunately, there’s more mystery and detection than romance, and I thought the book suffered for it.
Young and beautiful attorney Alice Kendall – tops in her class at law school, naturally – is approached by socially prominent lawyer Grayson Hawthorne (hero of Swan’s Grace) to defend his brother Lucas against a charge of murder. Lucas owns Nightingale’s Gate, a club where men come for drinks and conversation with beautiful, scantily clad women, but it’s not a brothel: the customers can look but not touch, at least on the premises. One of Lucas’s employees was found dead in the alley and an eyewitness has placed him at the scene. To add to his woes, the victim’s body was branded with the crest of a nightingale, one that matches a ring of Lucas’s – a ring he says is no longer in his possession.
Alice still lives at home – sort of. She occupies the cottage behind the family’s main house, where her father, brother, and uncle live. Her uncle is the chief of police, and her father is the district attorney. Normally the DA would take charge of a case like this, but he’s handed it over to his assistant Clark. Alice and Clark have had a long, unspoken agreement that eventually they’ll marry. But then she meets Lucas, and she can’t ignore the feelings the nightclub owner generates in her. Lucas would like to be able to walk away from Alice, but he needs her to help him clear his name, and there’s something else about her, an air of innocence that reaches out to his jaded soul. Will he be able to resist the pull between them? Will he live long enough to do anything about it?
Lucas is a stubborn man, which is not always a good thing, especially in this case. Out of a completely misguided sense of displaced loyalty he remains silent, even to his own defense attorney, the only person who’s standing between him and the gallows, about his suspicions concerning the identity of the real killer. He also neglects to inform Alice about a key piece of physical evidence, the only material thing that connects him to the crime scene, again out of misplaced protectiveness. I couldn’t help but question Lucas’s judgement. And I thought the motive behind his career choice was a bit peculiar, to say the least.
Alice is a little harder to peg. I’d classify her as book-smart but totally lacking in common sense. She’s practically goaded into taking on the case, doing so only after her father wounds her professional pride. In the course of her pretrial investigations she engages in some ridiculous behavior, including dressing like a prostitute and wandering down the alley behind Nightingale’s Gate alone at night. She withholds information from her client. And, unlike Lucas, she can’t seem to keep her mouth shut. She blathers on about the case to all and sundry, verbal slips that carry disastrous consequences.
The identity of the real killer comes almost out of the blue; Lee throws in a few nice red herrings to keep the reader guessing: is it her brother? her uncle? her father? Lucas’s father? Or someone else altogether? Yet the revelation, while a little over the top, is not totally unbelievable. I also enjoyed the courtroom scenes, more so than the romance element of the story, which struck me as artificial and tacked on. And that’s where the big disappointment lay for me – this is supposed to be a love story, but the romance element was weak and easily overpowered by the rest of the plot.
Lee’s narrative writing style is easy to read for the most part. I must also give her props for being able to handle head-hopping in a very non-obtrusive manner. But an annoying feature for me was the dialogue, which was occasionally stiff and sprinkled with anachronisms. How likely is it that in 1890’s Boston a genteel lady would say something like, “I aced the bar exam”? Or that Lucas’s brother would warn their father about the peril to the family if Lucas is convicted: “If Lucas goes down, you go down, too”? And some of the talk between Lucas and Alice was stilted. Does a man ever really say to a woman, “You make me want to watch your face as I fill you, slip my hard length inside you”? I don’t know about you, but I’d be laughing so hard that the romance of the moment would be ruined for me.
It took me until page 132 to figure out what year the story took place in, and then my only thought was, “This is 1893. Didn’t they have telephones and electricity in Boston by then?” There was a silly subplot about the estrangement between Lucas’s parents, and the resolution of both families’ entanglements came too fast and easily to suit me. Between that, and the unnatural, forced feel to the romance element, I would be hard-pressed to recommend the book. But the mystery, while a little cliched, is engaging, and the courtroom scenes are well done. If you liked the first two books in this trilogy, you may find stopping off for a few hours at Nightingale’s Gate a more satisfying experience than I did.
|Review Date:||June 14, 2001|