Secrets of the Heart
There are times when good writing can lift the reader above plot weaknesses and discrepancies and there are times when the writing just isn’t enough. Candace Camp’s Secrets of The Heart has good writing throughout, and most of the time it is enough to ignore the other problems. Sometimes, however, it just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Rachel Aincourt has been married to Michael Trent, the Earl of Westhampton, for seven years. In all that time, theirs has been a remote and distant marriage that has also remained unconsummated. It seems that Rachel tried to elope with another suitor just prior to her wedding, was caught in time by her father and fiancé, and married to her original fiancé mainly to avoid scandal.
Rachel is a likable character, a woman who has realized her mistakes, but is unable to do anything about fixing her situation. She is beginning to grow desperate for a child, and is trying to determine how she can persuade Michael – a man she believes despises her – to be with her long enough for that to happen. She feels useless and cowardly and admires the stronger women around her.
What Rachel doesn’t know (and we do) is that Michael has been desperately in love with Rachel since he met her, and would, in fact, have done anything just to be near her – including going ahead with the marriage even though he believes she loves another. He has hoped during the course of their marriage that they would grow closer and, perhaps, have a normal relationship, but their relations have been strained, especially since Michael cannot be with Rachel for long periods of time without feeling the agony of his love. He has a secret life that he has kept from Rachel, as well, and it is when this secret life starts to be revealed that Rachel and Michael finally let down their defenses and discover that they do love each other.
Michael is not only an involved landowner, he corresponds with other scientific minds on a variety of arcane issues, and also assists the authorities in investigations of ticklish domestic matters.
Meanwhile, Anthony Birkshaw, the man with whom Rachel tried to elope and who she promised Michael she would never see again, visits Rachel to ask for her husband’s help (he knows, unlike Rachel, about Michael’s investigations) in solving the mystery of his wife’s death. Confused as to why there is so much mystery surrounding her husband, Rachel gradually begins to discover bits and pieces of Michael’s secret life. When she tries to find out more, she meets a man who claims to be James, Michael’s half-brother. James tells her that he is actually the person who solves crimes, and the two decide to work together to solve the mystery.
Though James is remarkably like Michael in looks, he has darker hair, a lowly accent, scruffy manners and a bad attitude towards his half-brother. Rachel fights it, but she is incredibly attracted to him. They are comfortable with each other as Rachel and Michael could never be, and soon Rachel is contemplating adultery. An honorable woman who respects her husband even if she is distant from him, Rachel will not allow herself to dishonor her vows, even if it means she dies a virgin and never again sees the man to whom she is desperately attracted. But a bigger question remains: Is James really who he seems?
The book’s shortcomings occur in the very beginning when the author attempts to fill in the details for people (such as myself) who hadn’t read the earlier books in the series. All the information she provides about these other characters is confusing, convoluted and done far too quickly, so it’s all hard to digest. And honestly, as someone who has not read the previous books, it’s simply not necessary. Rachel and Michael’s story can stand on its own. And although the process of solving the mystery is interesting, the mystery itself is not. The villain is fairly obvious since there were only so many characters in the book in the first place – especially ones who hadn’t already figured in an earlier book. But ultimately, Camp made me care whether or not Rachel and Michael found happiness.
The most charming aspect of the book was definitely Camp’s writing; she has a wonderful way with dialogue, and although not anachronistic, she makes it sound as if these are real people with whom you could have a conversation today. She also inserts delightful details that add nothing to the plot, but ground the action in its time and space. For example, when Rachel and her girlfriend are discussing Michael’s odd friends, Rachel comments that some of them “forget to wear a hat in the rain or something like that but can remember what some philosopher hundreds of years ago said.” Her friend replies, “Oh. Like Lady Wendhaven’s uncle, say?” That kind of refreshing dialogue, which I often read in traditional Regencies, is not always found in historical romances, particularly when there’s a mystery attached.
There were some rough moments in Secrets of the Heart, but ultimately the author won me over with her writing, plot details, and realistic portrayal of real people making mistakes. Candice Camp has a very mixed record here at AAR; add this title to the plus column.