The Daughter of an Earl
Victoria Morgan’s The Daughter of an Earl is her follow up to last year’s The Heart of a Duke. Like that book, this one is a blend of mystery and romance with two strongly characterised, attractive protagonists, but while it’s certainly enjoyable, I’m afraid I can’t say that there is anything particularly special about it that makes it stand out from the crowd.
In the previous book, we learned that Lady Emily Chandler had had a very hard time following the death of her beloved fiancé in India, her overwhelming grief driving her to the edge of madness and the to the point of wanting to take her own life. The Daughter of an Earl opens some four years after the death of Emily’s fiancé, and while she has not fully returned to society, finding it difficult to cope with large gatherings, she has come to the gradual realisation that there are many things about Jason’s death that don’t add up, and is determined to honour his memory by finding out the truth.
She believes that Jason’s former friend and colleague, Lord Drummond will be able to assist her in her search and arranges to meet with him so that she can sound him out about her plan and ask for his help, but to her consternation, Drummond believes she has summoned him for other reasons. Embarrassed by the man’s obvious interest in her, Emily is trying to find a way to let him down gently, when she is saved the trouble by the intervention of Brett Curtis, friend and business associate of her sister’s husband, the Duke of Bedford.
Readers of the previous book may recall that Brett and Emily regularly struck sparks off each other, and I said at the end of my review that I was looking forward to reading their story. Well, this is it, and even though their relationship continues to be outwardly adversarial, it’s clear that the attraction that has been humming between them for some time has not abated. Emily is annoyed at Brett’s treatment of Drummond, as she had hoped to learn more about Jason’s work, but Brett has immediately sensed the other man’s interest in Emily and makes his displeasure about that known in no uncertain terms. Bristling at his high-handedness, Emily wants nothing more than to get away from Brett, who is the only man since her fiancé to have stirred her long-buried emotions. But realising that perhaps having him on her side – a man with a reputation for determination and tenacity – might not be such a bad idea, Emily eventually confides her concerns to him, explaining that she had hoped Drummond would help her to retrieve some items that Jason had left to her, but which, at the time, she had not been able to face looking at. She knows that Jason had been tasked with looking into accusations of corruption within the East India Company, and now suspects that his death may not have been accidental. She believes that the papers he had intended for her may provide some clue as to the status of his investigation and may even help her to uncover the identity of his murderer.
Naturally, Brett doesn’t like the idea of Emily putting herself into danger. But knowing that if he refuses to help her she will go ahead anyway, he agrees to assist her, seeing it as the only way he can keep her safe – and they reach an agreement. Emily will help to entertain Brett’s two sisters while he looks into the sudden disappearance of his cousin, the Duke of Prescott, and in return he will work with her to investigate Jason’s death.
One of the things I liked about their relationship was the way in which they agree to be honest with each other and not to pursue their investigations independently. For the most part, they stick to that bargain, meaning there are no silly arguments or misunderstandings, which is quite refreshing. The identity of the villain of the piece is fairly obvious from the outset, but I nonetheless enjoyed watching the pieces come together as the story progressed. The mystery is not especially complex, but it’s well thought-out and the author has clearly done her homework about the East India Company, which was riddled with corruption and had its metaphorical finger in a large number of nefarious pies!
I was less convinced by the romance, however, because although Emily and Brett are obviously strongly attracted to each other, the progression of their relationship takes a bit of a back-seat and it feels a little underdeveloped as a result. That said, Brett’s feelings for Emily are more strongly defined than hers for him, which stem principally from lust. That’s perfectly fine as a starting point, but her suggestion that they have an affair struck a bit of a false note; and she spends most of the book trying to seduce him (and eventually succeeding!) but prepared to send him off to find some other woman to settle down with once their investigations are over. Both are also given flimsy reasons as to why they’re not looking for marriage, neither of which is either convincing or necessary, given the ease with which they are dispensed with.
I struggled to grade The Daughter of an Earl, because while it has much to recommend it in terms of the writing, characterisation and plot, it lacks a certain deftness and humour – both of which I’ve enjoyed in the author’s previous work, and I found it too easy to put down. I can’t quite put my finger on why that was – so perhaps this is one of those times when “it’s not you – it’s me.”