Strangers at Dawn
Lately, in historicals, we’ve seen a lot of families headed by heroines. There was the desperate family in Jo Beverley’s Forbidden Magic, the needy family in Julia Quinn’s How To Marry A Marquis, the witty Shakespeare-quoting family in Jacquie D’Alessandro’s Red Roses Mean Love and the irresistibly multi-lingual, intellectual family in Liz Carlyle’s My False Heart.
In Strangers At Dawn Elizabeth Thornton also employs the story of the eldest sister heading a dependent family. But don’t get out that hot cocoa too fast! This group is a nest of vipers. Their convincing flaws make for an entertaining read.
The story opens with the trial of heroine Sara Carstairs for the murder of her brother-in-law, a man who was also her lover. Lord Maxwell Worthe, the owner and publisher of a tabloid newspaper, is convinced of Sara’s guilt. After Sara is cleared, Max makes sure that his paper hounds her at every move and revives the murder story whenever possible. Circumstantial evidence isn’t the only thing that has Max convinced. As he watches Sara on the docket, he is sure that her cool demeanor is that of a cold-blooded killer.
Then, one night, Max mistakenly climbs into Sara’s hotel window. Can you guess what happened? Ah, no. Thankfully, this is not another one of those “I raped you because I thought you were somebody else” books. Instead the two, who do not recognize each other, sort out the misunderstanding. They have a conversation and Max finds he doesn’t want to leave. Sara has been on the run for years and is terribly lonely. When Max touches her she gives into her desires and spends a passionate night with him.
This is one of those books where it’s the hero who presses the heroine to admit that there is something special and beautiful between them; that their first encounter was not a fluke but an indication of something real. Sara never expects to see Max again and that’s the way that she wants it. Of course, when she finds out that he is the villain who has made her life a misery, it does nothing to endear him to her. Max however is persistent. If Sara didn’t kill her brother-in-law who did? Enter the creepy family.
Sara is the sole inheritor of her father’s fortune and therefore caretaker of the family. Envied by her two lazy stepbrothers and despised by her selfish and lascivious stepmother, Sara also has a mysterious sister Anne, and a male friend who was her lawyer, as well as her father’s protégé. This unhappy crowd all live at the family estate griping about money, and Sara’s penny pinching ways, while Sara travels about miserably, under an assumed name.
Max Worthe is my favorite kind of historical hero. Despite being an aristocrat he has devoted his life to the newspaper business. The man actually has something to do! Once Max gets to know Sara he becomes even more dedicated to solving the murder mystery. Another thing Max is good at is handling Sara’s family. Not only does he see through their machinations, he also sympathizes with some of their unhappiness. Sara loves her family but she does not understand them and can be overly rigid.
Sara is more difficult to understand. She loves her family and seems intentionally blind to their faults. Her initial coldness toward Max is understandable, given the actions of his newspaper, but there are times when it wears thin. Max is obviously dedicated to solving the mystery and it seemed that Sara should have taken him into her confidence far earlier. I also had some trouble believing how far the couple went during their first love scene at the inn. The man was a complete stranger and I would have found a romantic conversation and a kiss more credible than a sexual encounter.
Nevertheless Strangers At Dawn is an exciting murder mystery with a compelling love story and a marvelous hero. This was my first Elizabeth Thornton book. I’m looking forward to reading more.