The Dark Affair
The Dark Affair is the third book in Ms. Claremont’s Mad Passions series, and features James Stanhope, Viscount Powers, who was an intriguing secondary character in the previous book in the series, Lady in Red. In fact, I found him so intriguing, that I was far more interested in him than in the hero, so I’m glad that he got his own book!
Powers has been struggling for years with the pain caused by the deaths of his late wife and two-year-old daughter, and started using opium as a way of forgetting. He has become an addict, and at the beginning of the book, has been committed to an asylum by his father, who is desperate to stop his son from killing himself – which will undoubtedly happen if he continues on his present course. The Earl of Carlyle has employed a highly regarded nurse, Lady Margaret Cassidy, who has made a name for herself as the result of her work treating the physical and mental injuries sustained by soldiers in the Crimea.
At their initial meeting, Powers wants nothing to do with Margaret, and makes that clear in no uncertain terms. But she is persistent – he needs help and she can give it, but it’s not going to be easy for either of them. When the earl asks her to marry James and give him an heir in return for a large financial settlement, she is horrified. But the money he offers will enable her to do a lot of good – she’ll be able to get her younger brother out of a serious fix and send money home to Ireland, where people are still facing the ravages wrought by the potato famine. So she agrees.
Powers’ recovery is difficult and sometimes debilitating, and the author portrays this very well. (One of the weaknesses in the last book was that the heroine, also an addict, seemed to be able to kick her habit with no problem). Margaret is battling demons of her own, and has just as much of an issue with trust and as strong an aversion to letting someone get close to her as James does, so in that way, their journeys mirror each other. Because the book centres so much on Powers’ recovery, the romance is perhaps a little underdeveloped and I did wonder at times if he was ready to fall for someone else given the depth of the grief and guilt he was trying so hard to ignore. But their relationship is otherwise well done, and I enjoyed their interactions and the way in which Margaret refuses to allow James to wallow by making him face up to the fact that he doesn’t have a monopoly on suffering.
I also liked the way Ms. Claremont develops the relationship between father and son. At the outset it seems as though the earl is concerned only the future of his title and family line, but we’re gradually shown that isn’t the case and that he cares deeply for his son. There’s a sub-plot involving Margaret’s younger brother and his involvement with Irish revolutionaries which is rather under-developed, and while the writing is generally good, there are a few instances of an odd turn of phrase or word choice that are rather jarring. Overall, though, I did enjoy the book, and will certainly be looking out for more from this author.