The Saint Who Stole My Heart
I wish I had liked The Saint Who Stole My Heart more. It has plot elements I usually enjoy – mysterious murder, intrigue, and even a sexy blond hero who pretends to be much dumber than he is. But as the book wore on, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a bit of a hot mess.
The book opens when the hero, Dashiell (“Dash”) Matthews, is just a child. He and three of his friends discover the body of Lady Afton, a mother figure to them all. Lady Afton has been brutally murdered, and the event will shape all of them. Fifteen years later, none of them are past it. The crime is unsolved, but they know a mysterious figure named The Bishop is responsible. Dash works for some sort of spy organization called The Corinthians. Though they have some information about Lady Afton’s murder, Dash has been officially forbidden to pursue the matter. One might assume from the prologue and opening chapter that Dash’s heroine was Sophie, who is his friend and Lady Afton’s daughter. In fact, Dash is destined to fall in love with Elena, a young woman who comes to take possession of Dash’s late father’s book collection which has been willed to her family. She comes to Dash’s home in London to catalog the books and pack them up, a job that will take some weeks.
Elena is excited about the books, but unexcited about London. This is because she is a bluestocking who had one disastrous season and didn’t “take.” Oh, did you miss that I said she was a bluestocking? Well, there is no chance of missing this information if you read the book, as it’s repeated ad nauseum. Elena brings Lady Mowbray with her as chaperone, and Lady Mowbray extracts Elena’s reluctant promise to attend a few ton events while she is there. Elena is, of course, dressed horribly and much in need of a makeover. I really coudn’t imagine why this didn’t happen the first time she was in London, since funds were not a problem and her chaperone at the time should have been motivated to marry her off, but whatever. Though Dash is much consumed with the Lady Afton mystery, he does take time out to notice how beautiful and voluptuous Elena is – particularly when he bumps into her in her nightgown as she’s trying to find the library.
Because Dash is stunningly handsome and very recognizable – traits that do not serve him well in the spy industry – he pretends to be stupid. In reality, he is a code-breaking numerical genius with a photographic memory. This is actually why he doesn’t care that his father willed all the family’s books to someone else; he’s read every volume and can remember everything in them. So we have Dash attempting to solve a murder and Elena cataloguing books and attending the odd social function. She also has a side intrigue going on with her companion, which related tangentially to the mystery. Somewhere around the halfway point, the author appears to remember that this is a romance novel, and these two are supposed to be falling in love. At this point they have sex in a carriage, apparently investing about as much thought in the choice as I gave this morning to whether I wanted a vanilla latte or a caramel macchiato. They start paying some lip service to falling in love, which Dash doesn’t really want to do – he is pursuing The Bishop, after all, and he’s afraid if he marries Elena it will put her in danger. Other stuff happens, but I’d kind of lost interest at that point.
You know what doesn’t happen? An exciting scene where Elena figures out that Dash is a genius rather than an idiot. She has moments where she muses about it a little, but no stunning revelation. This is a missed opportunity for a payoff if I ever saw one. I have no idea why, but I have a soft spot for heroes who pretend to be stupid. I guess I just find them funny. But as far as I could tell, Elena marries Dash with no true idea of his real potential – just some vague idea that maybe he might be smarter than he lets on.
This failure is indicative of other problems. The whole book has a cobbled together feel, much like a first draft that hasn’t yet hit the polishing phase. It doesn’t flow well. The characters hop from scene to scene in a confusing manner. I often caught myself rereading a paragraph, wondering when they had hopped to a new location. Skillful transitions are absolutely essential in a novel, but because of their very nature you only notice them when they’re absent.
There are parts of the book that show some promise. Elena and Dash are likable enough. I felt like I might have enjoyed them if they’d been in a different book – or perhaps a re-worked draft of this one. As it stands, The Saint Who Stole My Heart is a full of some intriguing bits and pieces that just don’t come together.