The Judas Kiss (Book Three of the Tyburn Trilogy)
When I read Maggie MacKeever’s The Tyburn Waltz a few months back, I found myself rooting for a romance (in a future book) between the hero’s sister and his oldest friend, who had crazy chemistry in spite of the fact that she was a precocious fifteen-year-old and he was in his thirties. I hasten to add that nothing ikky or untoward happened in that book; it was clear that Lady Clea had a crush on Kane, Lord Saxe, but he treated her like his best friend’s annoying little sister, and their banter was free of sexual references or innuendo – but still, it was apparent there was something there.
The Judas Kiss is set some six years after The Tyburn Waltz, and in it we’re treated to another complex and engaging mystery while at the same time, Clea and Kane are finally able to admit to what they’ve both known and wanted for a long time.
When we met her in the first book in the trilogy, it was clear that Clea was going to grow into an extraordinary young woman. Highly intelligent, quick witted and insatiably curious, she had a Latin quote at her fingertips for every occasion and could hold her own with the best of them in any verbal exchange. The one person who could fluster her was her brother’s good friend, Lord Saxe, whom she’s known forever, and on whom she had a massive crush. Rakishly handsome and devilishly charming, he’s fodder for her romantic dreams and yearnings, even though she recognises that such a notorious rake is not for her.
A year or so after the events in that novel, Clea accompanied her brother Ned, the Earl of Dorset, to Vienna, where it seemed all of Europe was gathered while monarchs and heads of state negotiated peace in the wake of Napoléon’s defeat. There, Clea met and fell head-over-heels in love with a young officer, Harry Marsden; they married when she was eighteen but had only a year together before tragedy struck; and now, at twenty-one, Clea returns to England a widow, determined to make herself a new life following her young husband’s suicide. Her journey has, however not been without incident, as she and her companion were set upon by highwaymen twice on the road – the second time on the outskirts of London, when Clea coolly despatched one of them by putting a bullet in his shoulder. The robbers fled after that.
Meanwhile Kane has been finding his life of debauchery no longer holds the appeal it once did, and that the constant round of intrigue, plots and schemes with which he’s tasked by his government masters are exhausting rather than exciting. With the king and queen at each other’s throats and engaged in a constant and very public battle of words, and the king eager to rally support for a divorce, Kane is on the trail of a group of thieves and counterfeiters that seems to lead to a mysterious but murderous individual known only as The Deacon.
The news of Clea’s return unsettles Kane. He’s too old and too jaded for her, yet he can’t help wanting to be with her at the same time as he thinks he should stay as far away from her as possible. When rumours begin to circulate that Clea had a hand in her husband’s death, Kane realises she’s mixed up in something that could do far more than merely damage her reputation – a suspicion born out when it becomes clear that the attacks upon her on the road were not isolated incidents.
Ms. MacKeever has crafted a fast-moving, intricate and well-plotted mystery that leads to a high-stakes finale that ties together a number of characters and events from the previous novels in the series. One of the complaints I had about book two, The Purloined Heart, was that while readers knew who the villain was, we never knew how he related to the other characters. Fortunately, that isn’t the case here, and the author has topped that with a revelation I didn’t see coming. As in the other novels, the story is very firmly rooted in the events of the day, although this time around, I didn’t find all the background detail to be quite so overwhelming.
Clea and Kane continue to strike sparks off each other and the chemistry between them is as strong as ever. The almost twenty year age gap – we’re not told how old Kane is, but Clea is twenty-one and he describes himself as being almost twice her age – doesn’t bother me, as ultimately, what I’m looking for are two people who are well-matched in understanding and temperament, and Kane and Clea are certainly that. Clea loved her husband, but her girlish feelings for Kane have matured and she’s coming back to him now as a woman who knows what she wants; and while Kane tries to keep her at arm’s length, he pretty much knows he’s toast from the moment she returns to England.
I admit that I would have liked a little more of Kane and Clea together on the page. While they’re the romantic leads, the romance is part of a larger story, and they’re part of a larger, well-drawn ensemble cast that gets its share of ‘screen time’ as well. Perhaps I’m being greedy – but they’re such a great couple that I was a bit miffed whenever they were separated. Even so, I did enjoy the book – and the series – and would recommend it to anyone who is partial to intricately constructed historical mysteries that are very firmly grounded in a specific time and place.