'Til Death Do Us Part
I know Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz’ Arcane Society books had lots of fans. I never could get into that series, but I do love her writing, so I was happy to see ‘Til Death Do Us Part show up. This standalone novel features a couple I really enjoyed and a gothic-tinged mystery that completely captured my attention.
Calista Langley inherited her grandmother’s mansion, but no money to go with it. To make a living, she uses the grand house to stage salons, to which she invites carefully screened clients of her introductions agency in hopes that they will find friendship and perhaps even romance. However, behind her capable facade, Calista hides a secret terror. Someone has persisted in sending her mourning jewelry and other death tokens engraved with her initials. On top of that, Calista finds herself and her business disturbed one morning when a former suitor who proved dishonest shows up trying to beg and perhaps even force her into becoming his mistress.
Calista’s rescue comes in the form of her next client, the reclusive author Trent Hastings. Calista finds herself sharing some of her problems with the popular mystery writer, and the two end up joining forces to find out who is sending her the disturbing tokens. Their search soon pulls them into what appears to be a series of murders committed by a madman, and from there the chase is on. I’ve read quite a few of Amanda Quick’s novels and many involve an intelligent heroine and troubled hero joining forces on a quest that often involves some form of sinister doings. In that sense, I suppose the plot of this novel is a tad formulaic, but if you happen to like her formula, she’s got a great variant going here.
Calista runs salons that feature more intellectual heft than the typical “marriage mart” events and from her conversations with Trent, it’s obvious she has more than a few brains in her head. Trent’s tortured past is truly tragic, and as he shares his secrets with Calista, one can understand more of why he is the way he is. GIven how things turn out between Calista and Trent, I could have used a bit more romance in this book, but what we get is lovely. Calista’s brother annoyed me a bit, but otherwise I liked the secondary characters almost as well as Trent and Calista.
I have one other quick note on characters. For all the readers tired of the Lords and Ladies of Historical Romance, guess what? Everybody here is a commoner!
And then there’s the backdrop. Quick makes great use of the Victorians’ mourning traditions and fascination with death and the departed to add some truly spooky touches to the story – including a late night scene in a coffin dealer’s shop. In many ways, the suspense in this book is a hybrid of gothic and thriller. The pace of the story and the constant jump from one clue to the next, with the leads finding themselves frequently discovering new deaths or finding themselves in personal peril keeps readers turning pages briskly, just as with any good thriller. However, the creepy tokens and odd doings around Calista took me back to the mood of many of my favorite gothics.
While not a perfect read, ‘Til Death Do Us Part is definitely a very strong one. I enjoyed the romance, with its occasional touches of humor to lighten the mood of the darkly gothic mystery. And I adored the suspense! This one has lots of twists and turns to it. I suspect many readers will guess parts of the story, but there are some definite surprises buried in there. If you’re looking for a good mystery-infused historical, this should go on your to-buy list.