For some reason, although I’ve listened to a number of Amanda Quick’s books in audio format, I’ve never actually read one, so I decided to rectify that situation by reading the author’s latest release. Otherwise Engaged is an enjoyable romantic mystery which displays many of Ms Quick’s hallmarks – an adventurous and independently-minded heroine, a highly intelligent, slightly quirky hero, romance, danger, and an intriguing mystery.
Miss Amity Doncaster is a rather unconventional young lady who is known for the travel articles she writes for The Flying Intelligencier and who is currently writing a travel guide for ladies. She had travelled the world with her father, a doctor, until his recent death; since then, she has continued her travels alone. On the eve of her departure from the Caribbean island of Saint Claire, she stumbles across a man who has been shot, and who entreats her to carry a letter for him, to be delivered in the event of his death. Amity agrees, but is determined not to let the man die. She binds his wounds as best she can and helps him back to their ship where she nurses him back to health during their voyage to New York.
The man is Benedict Stanbridge, a wealthy gentleman and engineer, who had travelled to the island to gather information about a new kind of weapon which the British government is keen to acquire – a solar-powered device which could revolutionise the armament of battleships. But the inventor was killed before Benedict’s arrival, and he suspects that the person responsible – most likely a Russian spy – is also the person responsible for the attack on him.
During the journey, Benedict and Amity become closer and spend a considerable amount of time together, but he has business to take care of in California and Amity must head back to London. They part in New York, but not before Benedict has asked permission to call on her when he returns to England.
Amity hasn’t been back in London long when she is bundled into an unmarked carriage and threatened at knifepoint by a masked man known as “The Bridegroom”, a man who has killed three women. All of them were whores, he tells her, and that is why he has singled her out – she seduced Benedict on their recent voyage in order to trap him into marriage, and he needs to be rescued from her clutches.
Barely escaping with her life, Amity finds herself the favoured subject of London gossip – not just because of the rumours that have begun to circulate about her relationship with Benedict, but also as the one woman to have evaded death at the hands of a notorious killer.
Benedict’s timely return to London enables them to put a stop to the gossip by announcing their (fake) engagement and to work together to find the killer, who continues to stalk Amity. As a betrothed couple, they are allowed to spend more time together than a single man and woman would be, which means that Benedict can protect Amity as they pursue their enquiries through the ballrooms and salons of London society.
At the same time, Benedict is still working to track down the Russian spy who shot him and making sure that the notes and plans for the weapon are secure. Thus, our intrepid investigators are on the trail of not one mystery, but two – or so it seems, until Ms Quick begins to skilfully weave the two different plot strands together.
I enjoyed reading Otherwise Engaged, but it’s definitely a book in which the romance takes second place to the mystery. If you’ve read other books by this author, then you’ll have an idea of what to expect – and I did actually notice some strong similarities between this and some of her other books (The Paid Companion in particular, to which I re-listened recently). But I don’t mean that as a heavy criticism because I don’t mind formulaic provided it’s done well, as is the case here. The pacing is good, and Ben and Amity are a good match for each other in terms of intelligence, humor, and quirkiness. Ben exudes a rather sexy aura of quiet competence and Amity is thankfully free of the TSTL traits so often found in the heroines of mystery stories. The progress of the investigation is full of twists and turns, and there is a rather sweet romance brewing between Amity’s widowed sister and the police inspector who has been assigned to capture and bring “The Bridegroom” to justice.
My main criticism in terms of the plot is that the identity of the Russian spy seemed to come out of left field somewhat, but otherwise, everything was nicely tied up by the end. No exact date is given for the setting of the book, but much mention is made of photography, so we’re definitely in the second half of the nineteenth century. Even so, I was rather surprised at the fact that Amity was able to travel alone, as I don’t recall any mention of a companion or chaperone, and there was certainly a modern feel to the story and to the characters’ actions.
But with all that said, Otherwise Engaged is a fun, fast-paced page-turner and is sure to appeal both to Ms. Quick’s many fans and newcomers to her work in equal measure.