The Devil in Her Bed
The Devil in Her Bed is an extremely disappointing finale to Byrne’s Devil You Know series, this instalment focusing on a vengeful countess and the man she believes killed her family.
Pippa Hargrave is an impassioned adolescent who loves and yet is envious of Francesca Cavendish, her best friend. Francesca, you see, is adored by Declan Chandler, the foundling boy whom Pippa has a crush on, and they all live on the same country estate. But something much worse and more serious than childish jealousies soon invade Pippa’s life, when a bunch of Americans invade and slaughter Francesca, Francesca’s twin brother, parents, all the animals, then set the estate on fire. Only Pippa, Declan and one of the maids survive. She encourages Pippa to pose as Francesca and claim her title and inheritance, then use the money to pursue the villains.
Years later, the Mont Claire Massacre has passed into gristly history. Now living as the scandalous Countess of Mont Claire, Francesca Cavendish – (i.e, Pippa, but I’ll refer to her as Francesca, as that’s how she’s mostly referred to in the book) is a woman on a mission. She’s is in pursuit of the men who killed the Cavendishes, men presumed to be members of the Crimson Council, a secret society with some ugly secrets. Francesca’s dream is to kill them all. But she needs an ally to accomplish that goal, and she finally finds him in The Devil of Dorset.
Francesca doesn’t recognize her childhood best friend and crush Declan in the devilish assassin. And he doesn’t recognize in her the perfect, idealized mental image of Pippa, who was like a sister to him and whose ‘loss’ has haunted him for years. Will they be able to team up and find the murderers?
Well, of course they will. But The Devil in Her Bed is the worst Byrne I’ve read – soapy, melodramatic, filled with abused and tortured children and men (and childish men). One of the biggest stumbling blocks here is Declan’s inability to combine his feelings for Pippa and those for Francesca. He worshipped Pippa; he desires this new Francesca and had a crush on the younger version, and is unable to differentiate between his memories of his now-grown friend. He is devastated when he learns Pippa is Francesca, and his Madonna/whore complex is annoying – but he’s otherwise the usual Byrne hero, complete with childhood trauma.
Francesca is the usual shades of feisty and strong, and I generally liked her – she’s the only reason this book doesn’t get an F. She does have absurd and irritating thoughts like “I just licked Christmas” (apparently Declan’s skin “smells like Christmas” so… burnt fruitcake and roast potatoes)?
Other reasons for this book’s D rating – as if the aforementioned melodrama, and confused hero isn’t enough? Byrne actually drags out that hoariest of clichés, the gay man who is an irredeemable and massively evil sociopath – who also happens to be the hero’s biological father. Sweet God, didn’t we leave this nightmarish garbage in romance’s primordial swamp with Steve and Ginny? Sure, there’s brief mention of a kind lover who saved said father’s life, but Good Gravy – it’s a stereotype, and not a good look in this day and age. Throw that on to the pile of the gloomy, gloopy melodrama of the plot and you end up with a turkey. (And not the Christmassy kind!)
I’ve said before that Byrne seems to have lost control of her voice, which have always been distinctive. She’s talented enough to be able to write dark romances without leaning into clichés or fully giving into them. But lately those clichés, poor plotting and unlikable characters have been winning out, and it’s an unfortunate thing to witness, because some of her other books have been breathtaking. The Devil In her Bed in general is a wholehearted disappointment, and represents a real low. Hopefully the author’s next book will see a return to form
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