The Purloined Heart (Book Two of the Tyburn Trilogy)
A few months back I picked up Maggie MacKeever’s The Tyburn Waltz for a prompt in the TBR Challenge, and enjoyed it enough to want to read the other books in the Tyburn Trilogy. At that point, only the second book – The Purloined Heart – was available, but I was pleased to learn the third was on the way, especially as it would feature two secondary characters from the first book who were clearly destined for one another. Although there are a couple of characters who appear in both books – most notably Kane, Baron Saxe – The Purloined Heart can be read independently of its predecessor, and proved to be an enjoyable mix of mystery and romance.
Maddie Tate is, at twenty-seven, the widowed mother of two young sons, and has gone back to live under her stentorian father’s roof. Sir Owen Osborne Is dismissive and dictatorial, and Maddie fears he may try to separate her from the boys if she doesn’t dance to his tune. But that particular dance is palling quickly and she’s chafing under her father’s constant criticisms of her manner, her clothes and, well, everything about her; hence her decision to sneak out to a scandalous masquerade being held at Burlington House one night, where she’s borrowed the costume that was supposed to have been worn by a friend who is unable to attend. She’s nicely tipsy when a young gentleman dressed as Henry VIII approaches her and starts spouting Shakespeare and fiddling with the arrows in her quiver. (Get your mind out of the gutter! She’s dressed as Diana the huntress!) Puzzled as to why Henry should have been lurking outside the ladies’ withdrawing room, Maddie follows him as he wends his way along the more private corridors of the house, watching as he enters an out-of-the way room. Hearing raised voices, Maddie peers through the keyhole, and witnesses a man dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh clubbing Henry over the head; he falls to the floor just as the door inconveniently swings open, revealing Maddie behind it. She runs, only to collide with a gentleman dressed as a Cavalier, and demands he kiss her – to hide from her pursuer of course. One kiss turns into two… three, and into something more than a simple matter of expediency.
Angel Jarrow is used to women throwing themselves at him. He’s gorgeous, charming, incredibly wealthy and one of the biggest rakes in London. He’s also locked into a marriage with a woman who despises him and does everything she can to make his life a misery; with divorce so difficult it’s pretty much a non-option, there’s nothing he can do other than avoid her where possible, although naturally, he continues to support her financially. Ruefully, he admits his being married does have one benefit; it means he’s left alone by the debutantes and match-making mamas of the marriage mart.
Being accosted by a woman is nothing new or unwelcome, but his Diana intrigues him. He has no idea who she is, and her kisses, while enthusiastic and undoubtedly arousing, are curiously inexperienced; and Angel continues to think about her for the few days it takes him to discover the lady’s identity. Maddie has no idea who her cavalier was, either – all she knows is that he kissed her so well she almost forgot her own name – and when she comes face-to-face with Angel Jarrow she is, at first horrified. But it’s impossible for her to remain so, as he proceeds to disarm her with his outrageous suggestion she should apologise for ravishing him, and she finds herself enjoying his ridiculous conversation and his company.
Shortly after this, London is abuzz with news of the sudden disappearance of one Fanny Arbuthnot, an intimate of the Regent’s estranged and detested wife. She hasn’t been seen since the night of the masquerade, and neither, it seems has the celebrated actress Verity Vaughan. When it comes to light that both ladies attended the masque, and that at least one of them was dressed as Diana, Angel and his friend Lord Saxe – both of whom work for the government – realise that Maddie actually witnessed a murder and that whoever is responsible is almost certainly looking for her, and for a packet of documents they believe to be in her possession.
Neither Saxe nor Angel wants to see Maddie come to any harm, but for Angel, it’s more than that. He’s drawn to Maddie’s sweetness and charmed by her honesty and innocence – and for the first time finds himself besieged by scruples he never thought he had. He’s an appealingly self-aware hero who knows his faults and isn’t above using them to his advantage on occasion, and Maddie isn’t your run-of-the-mill heroine; she’s not stunningly beautiful, she’s not a bluestocking and she’s not TSTL – she’s actually quite ‘normal’, which makes her all the more likeable. She’s totally smitten with Angel; he’s incredibly handsome, yes, but more than that he’s clever and funny and kind… and she rather wishes that he would throw those newly acquired scruples to the winds.
The mystery element of The Purloined Heart is complex and well-executed; intrigues and sub-plots abound, many of them connected to actual historical events or people of the time. Napoléon has been defeated, the peace treaties are at a delicate stage, the political situation in England is precarious in many ways, the Regent is hated, he and his wife are engaged in a very public marital breakdown (well, the marriage never really got off the ground)… we so often read about stories set in ballrooms and country house-parties that could be set almost any-when and anywhere, which definitely isn’t the case with this book. The downside, however is that the sheer volume of information the author has included about this statesman’s political ambitions or that one’s underhand machinations is almost overwhelming and at times, interrupts the flow of the story. And something I found rather odd was the fact that while the author has created a truly menacing villain in the person of the mysterious pharaoh (also known as ‘The Falconer’), we never find out who he actually IS beyond a brief physical description and his aliases. I felt that something was missing.
Angel and Maddie are immensely likeable characters, and the chemistry between them is terrific, although I can’t deny that I’d have liked them to have spent a little more time together on the page. (And for anyone wondering, there IS an HEA.) The writing is spry and intelligent and there’s a strongly-drawn secondary cast, all of whom add flavour to the overall mix, and there’s plenty of humour along the way, too, much of it provided by Tony, Maddie’s faux-suitor, and the lumbering dog Angel rescues and gives to her boys.
I enjoyed the book and, in spite of the reservations I’ve expressed, would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different to so many of the other historicals on offer at the moment. Book three, The Judas Kiss will be released shortly, and I’m looking forward to reading Saxe and Clea’s story