Passions of a Wicked Earl
Lorraine Heath is a new author for me, and my impressions are mixed after finishing Passions of a Wicked Earl. The book started in a rather aggravating way, developed some sterling qualities in the middle, and ended in a downward spiral of melodrama.
The novel begins with Morgan Lyons, the Earl of Westcliffe, having sex with his mistress. When he gets home, he is surprised to discover that his estranged wife Claire has come for a visit. She wants to spend the Season in London to introduce her younger sister Beth to society, so that Beth will be spared the anguish of an arranged match. Secretly, Claire is also determined to mend the breach between herself and Westcliffe.
They were married three years earlier, at the age of 17 and 25 respectively, and the marriage went disastrously wrong when Westcliffe found Claire in bed with his younger brother Stephen on their wedding night. Westcliffe beat Stephen up, banished Claire to his country seat, and spent the last years having sex with as many women as he could before devoting himself to a single mistress who is as cold and self-centered as she is greedy. Claire, in the meantime, accepted her banishment and put Westcliffe’s neglected lands in order.
Now, however, she is weary of the situation and determined to do her very best both to explain everything to her husband and then to achieve a reconciliation. She tells him that her actions three years ago were only an extremely stupid ruse to postpone the wedding night she was afraid of, and that nothing happened really. Westcliffe’s first instinct is to send her back to the country, but he realises that the pleasant fortune he has built recently is based solely on Claire’s dowry, and that he owes her. Accordingly, Claire settles in his London house, her sister arrives, and they begin to attend a round of parties together.
Westcliffe is very difficult to like at the beginning. While he was betrayed dreadfully, he never even begins to consider that his actions – mainly not ever making an attempt to get to know Claire better even as their wedding approached – may have been at fault, too. In addition, much is made of how he was not yet a man at 25, but is all manly at 28. This is plausible to a certain extent, as he has only now gained financial independence and has proven himself an astute businessman, but regarding his relationship with women – his wife, his mother and his mistress – he starts off more immature than ever. He does improve a lot after about a third of the book, but relapses in two sad moments of utter blindness close to the ending.
Claire, on the other hand, is delightful. She is very courageous in facing her irate husband and knows that if she wants to save her marriage this is not time for foot-stomping and hurt feelings. At the same time, she is no doormat and fights for what she thinks is right for her marriage with great determination. I also enjoyed her interactions with the secondary characters a lot.
If the novel begins with shouted accusations, it soon moves on to a sequence of more or less ordinary situations which highlight the intricacies of Claire and Westcliffe’s relationship and the slow changes that take place. They also illuminate the past and make the protagonists (and the reader) understand the other’s motivations. I loved these scenes, and thought I was headed for a B read.
Then came the ending, and with it a deep plunge into melodrama that did not fit the far more subtle rest of the novel. I was thoroughly disappointed! This was even made worse by the fact that the author does not restrict herself to one sensational turn, but delivered at least three.
So all in all, I cannot really recommend Passions of a Wicked Earl. While the novel does have its strong points, the ending especially is a letdown. I might read one of the other novels in the series, as I got curious about several of the secondary characters (especially Westcliffe’s younger half-brother, and their mother and her lover), but Lorraine Heath is only on my maybe-again list as of now.