The Heiress's Deception
Christi Caldwell’s engaging series about a group of young pickpockets who form a lifelong bond, open a gambling hell and marry into the upper strata of English society continues apace with the The Heiress’s Deception, a story featuring the Hell and Sin Club’s second in command.
Lady Eve Pruitt is in desperate straits. Gerald, her gambling-addict brother, has descended into dissolution and debauchery and offered Eve’s body to one of his friends in order to clear some of his debts. Having escaped with her virtue intact by the skin of her teeth, Eve knows Gerald has no more money of his own and will force her to marry his creditor so that he can get his hands on her twenty thousand pound dowry – and that he is prepared to lie about her mental state and have her locked up if she refuses to do it. A kindly co-worker at the local children’s hospital where Eve keeps the books scouts out a position for her; Eve dyes her hair pitch black and poses under the name of Mrs. Eve Swindell to audition for a position at the notorious Hell and Sin Club. Through sheer moxie, she wins the job – and is shocked to discover that her new boss is an old (and presumed dead) friend.
Calum Dabney, once the head of a pickpocketing gang called the Hellfires, shared an extremely close friendship with Eve when they were both young people living on opposite sides of the tracks in London. It was a friendship that was ruined when Eve’s attempt at helping an injured Calum resulted in his being carried off to Newgate for his crimes. He’s blamed her ever since for his wretched time in prison, but doesn’t recognize the beautiful, mysterious woman who enters his club seeking a job.
But Eve recognizes him and is shocked – Gerald told her Calum had been hanged for his crimes, and has continually taunted her about her part in it over the years. With Calum thoroughly in the dark as to her identity and her reasons for being at the club, she cannot risk telling him the truth in case he should alert her brother as to her whereabouts. As they become reacquainted, love begins to blossom in spite of themselves. Can they both defeat the deception surrounding them and snatch love and stability from the jaws of danger?
One word to describe the novel and this romance is ‘fraught’. That can be a good thing – it’s tense, suspenseful, and filled with intrigue, but it also reflects negatively on the characters occasionally, making them hard to warm to.
If you don’t like romances where the plot hinges on big secrets, this probably won’t be for you. But The Heiress’ Deception is perfumed beautifully with longing and with memory, to the point that it minimizes many of its flaws. The couple’s chemistry is definitely there, and both characters are worth rooting for – Eve with her head for numbers, her true vocation as a guardian to sick and orphaned children and her steel-strong determination to self-rescue, Calum with his deep well of strength and belief in the downtrodden and friendless. The background characters are fun and decently drawn, though there is a touch of cliché to some of them, Gerald in particular.
The problem with the novel as a whole relates to the underpinning of the plot, which rests on a series of lies and deceptions that could be (and are – eventually) cleared up with a few simple words. Calum and Eve have been hiding things from each other since they were six years old, and the notion that he blamed her, a somewhat sheltered child of nine, for yelling for help for her bleeding friend is a little bit ridiculous. He knows she’s naïve and yet he expected her to know better? It’s sad that he suffered and was imprisoned, but how would Eve know the depths of her brother’s depravity at such a young age? The way this all plays out is a little simplistic and ends up keeping the hero and heroine from dirtying their hands in a way that’s satisfying.
Their chemistry is very Beauty and the Beast-like, with Calum roaring about the loss of order and looking down on Eve, while she calmly and stubbornly restories order to the Hell and Sin club – at least until their memories begin to surface and re-establish their connection, which comes across as warm and rich. It’s worth the wait.
Caldwell’s use of language is occasionally repetitive (how many times must Calum say that he’s a child of the streets?), but otherwise she does an excellent job of painting this long gone old world, the dankness of London’s slums and the false brightness of its high society.
While the tone is properly gothic, and Calum and Eve are a nice couple worth rooting for, some ludicrous plot choices render The Heiress’ Deception thoroughly average. The romance is well done, with some lovely, tender moments, but they can’t elevate the story as a whole to anything beyond the ordinary. Perhaps other readers may enjoy this one more than I did.