The Duke's Suspicion
The Duke’s Suspicion is the second in Susanna Craig’s Rogues and Rebels series, and takes as its heroine, Erica Burke, the sister of Cami, from the first book, The Companion’s Secret. I haven’t read it, but didn’t feel the lack here; this works as a standalone and any bits of necessary background information are quickly filled in by the author. This is the first time I’ve read a book by Ms. Craig; she débuted a couple of years back, but I’ve yet to see any reviews of her work that have enticed me to try it. I confess I picked this one up simply because I was light on review books for December – and unfortunately for me, I can’t report stumbling upon a terrific book by accident.
Playing gooseberry to her sister and new husband on their wedding trip to the Lake District isn’t really Erica Burke’s idea of fun, but she’s keen on visiting new places and excited to examine the flora and fauna of a new locale. The group is about to leave the inn at which they stopped for refreshment when Erica realises – to her dismay – that she’s left her journal inside, and rushes back to get it… without telling anyone where she’s going. Once she retrieves it and goes back outside – the coaches have left without her. Telling herself not to panic, she decides to walk to the next village to try to catch up with the party there, but the worsening weather makes it imperative for her to find shelter, at least temporarily – so she’s grateful to come across an old, seemingly abandoned hut. On entering, she discovers she isn’t the only one to have had the idea of sheltering there – there’s a man inside, who introduces himself as Tristan Laurens; he’s clearly a gentleman, and although a bit nervous, Erica realises he means her no harm.
The next morning, with no let up in the rain, Tristan insists on pushing on to his home at Hawesdale Chase. Once there, he will send someone to make enquiries about Erica’s sister, and to advise her that Erica is safe and sound. He neglected to tell her before that he’s not plain Mr. Laurens – or even plain Major Lord Laurens any more – but the Duke of Raynham, recently come into the title upon the deaths of his father and older brother. He’s been avoiding going home for a number of reasons, one that he wants to remain in the army, another because he’s sure nobody wants him at Hawesdale seeing as how rumour has it the old duke wasn’t actually his father. He’s not thrilled to discover that his step-mother (with whom he gets along well) has gathered a small party together to welcome him – and that one member of it is the young lady to whom his brother was betrothed and whose father now expects Tristan to marry her instead.
Thrown into all this – an unwanted betrothal, Tristan’s insecurities about his position, the potential conflict on account of his being an English officer and Erica related to (suspected) Irish rebels – is also the search for a spy who is most likely at that moment residing under his own roof.
Sounds like the stage is set for an intriguing read, doesn’t it?
Sadly, the book fails to deliver on any count. The plot is thin and doesn’t make much sense, the romance lacks any kind of spark, and after Tristan and Erica’s initial meeting, things fizzle out very quickly as we become stuck in the classic stranded-at-a-country-house-party trope during which all Erica seems to do is wander around clutching her journal to her chest and worry about her deficiencies.
From the way the author describes her physical and mental restlessness and inability to keep track of her thoughts (hence the need for the journal), I’d guess she is supposed to have some form of ADD. In the days before this was a known condition, Erica has been criticised and ridiculed for her inability to stay focused and has clearly taken such things to heart, trying desperately to hide that she’s different and to fit in with those around her. This aspect of the character is well-conveyed and her concerns are sensitively handled. But sadly, all she does, until around three-quarters of the way through the book, is fidget, draw and obsess about her journal. And then, towards the end, she turns into some sort of master spy, hatching the perfect plan to help Tristan find the spy in their midst. And speaking of that, it’s an incredibly weak sub-plot; other than another character mentioning in passing that all the guests at Hawesdale have something to hide (and we never find out what that something is for most of them), I had no clear idea of what threat this spy posed, or why the plotline was even in the book other than as a reason for Tristan to suspect Erica and then for Erica to show off her sooper-spy-skillz by coming up with the plan to trap the real spy. And speaking of that, what sort of master spy is Tristan that he doesn’t even think about running with the old ‘let’s-pretend-you-think-I’m-guilty-to-draw-out-the-real-cuplrit’ plan?
Tristan is your stereotypical second son who didn’t expect and doesn’t want to be a duke and is determined to return to his previous life as soon as he can get away. He’s barely one-dimensional; I’m writing this review less an hour after finishing the book and I can remember pretty much nothing about him, not what he was supposed to look like, his personality traits, nothing. And Erica isn’t much better. For a character who is supposedly struggling not to be defined by the characteristics of her ADD, the author has written her as someone who is completely defined by them, because other than her fiery red hair, those are the only things about her I can remember.
There is no real sense of a developing relationship or emotional connection between the central couple and I didn’t feel a connection to either of them. There’s no sexual tension between them and the book’s main sex scene is awkward and one of the most unsexy things I’ve read all year – I couldn’t work out why they were doing it at all, frankly, and I couldn’t wait for it to end.
Which is also true of The Duke’s Suspicion as a whole. The synopsis makes much of the potential clash between an English soldier and an Irishwoman with Republican sympathies, but don’t expect any political discussions or anguish over falling for the enemy – there’s none of that here. What we get instead are bland characters, a thin plot, clichés-a-plenty and a dull, repetitive story. MY suspicion is that I’ve have been better entertained reading something else.