The Devil You Know
As a general rule, I’ve got nothing against connected books. In the hands of a skilled author, it’s often fun to follow a family or group of friends as they all find their path to love. But in the case of Liz Carlyle’s latest book, the whole connected craze has finally gone too far.
Carlyle herself is quoted at AAR as saying, “I do tend to have characters that reappear, but I do this mostly for myself…I hope that a reader could pick up any of the books, and never feel as though she were ‘missing something.'” If only. Unless you’ve read virtually all of the author’s previous books, you simply can’t follow this one. To make matters worse, even if you have read them (as I have), you would still be well advised to spend some time studying and reviewing the characters and their tangled relationships before you can even begin to think about tackling The Devil You Know.
N’er do well Bentley Routledge, younger brother of Cam, Lord Treyhern (Beauty Like the Night and Catherine (No True Gentleman) has always loved the company of Frederica d’Avillex, the ward of the Marquis of Rannoch (My False Heart). When the feckless Bentley comes upon the distraught and virginal Freddie just after she’s learned that the man she wanted to marry is engaged to another, it seems to be just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to full sex and a night in bed together. Terrified by the consequences of their actions and confused by his feelings, the cowardly Bentley decamps the next morning, leaving a note behind offering both his apologies and his willingness to marry the young woman he has just deflowered. Problem is, he leaves the note on a windowsill that is blown through the curtains and onto the grounds before Freddie knows of its existence.
So, while Freddie thinks Bentley has deserted her, our erstwhile hero anxiously waits for the sure-to-be-angry confrontation with Freddie’s protective adoptive family. Soon enough, however, matters take their own turn when young Frederica suddenly starts getting sick in the morning.
Though her family thinks Bentley is the worst kind of heel (he is), Freddie insists that she is just as much to blame as Bentley (she is) and further resolves that she won’t compound one mistake with another by forcing Bentley to marry her. Thus, the plan is devised that the family will put about the word that Freddie is leaving England to marry a foreigner, eventually allowing her to return as a widow with a young child.
But Bentley has plans of his own. Oblivious to the pregnancy and mystified as to why Freddie and her family haven’t demanded an immediate wedding, he attempts to visit the young woman he knows is now in Town. When told that she is “not at home,” he resolves to repair his perennially haphazard appearance and confront the young lady at a London ball.
Let me say that there are many things to like about this book. Liz Carlyle’s elegant prose is very much in evidence, as is her delightful humor. Bentley’s tangled emotions – including the fact that he is, quite obviously, not as averse to marrying Freddie as he purports to be – were nicely and convincingly portrayed.
But, regretfully, a full understanding of Bentley also requires a full understanding of the Carlyle Canon. And since his complicated relationship with his older brother Cam – a relationship colored by events in other books – plays almost as important a role here as does his evolving relationship with Freddie, any lack of familiarity with those previous happenings pretty much leaves the reader high and dry. And even though Ms. Carlyle occasionally inserts a hint or two about these events, she doesn’t spell out in any detail exactly what occurred until far too late in the book. Frankly, I’ve got a pretty darn good memory for trivia, but I’ve lived a lot of life and read a lot of books since I last read Ms. Carlyle, and the hints she provided simply weren’t enough.
But, with all that said, I do think that Bentley is one of the author’s most full-bodied and real characters. He is an intriguingly complex personality (far more so than Freddie, who was rather more understanding of Bentley and his behavior than most saints would be) and I ultimately greatly respected how the author developed and evolved his character – if only it didn’t rely so much on events and circumstances outside this novel!
For me, also, there’s a slight ick-factor with the pregnancy storyline. I simply don’t like this plot device under just about any circumstances, and, while I’ll admit that my reaction to this is personal and one that another reader might not share, it was another factor that kept me from fully enjoying this book. On the other hand, I did enjoy the appearance of a few of the members of Carlyle’s cast of perennial secondary characters. Since a full understanding of everything that ever happened to Queenie, Kemble, and the like isn’t required in order to enjoy their appearances, they added a nice dimension to the story.
In the long run, though, I don’t think fans of Liz Carlyle will be too disappointed with The Devil You Know and, if you remember to do your homework before starting, you might well grade this book in the B range. However, if the author is new to you, a word of caution: Liz Carlyle is a skilled and talented author of European Historicals, but this book is simply not the place to start.