When a Lady Deceives
Tara Kingston’s newest release When a Lady Deceives features a clever, intelligent woman matched with a man whose true heart and motives are masked by darkness. Sounds like a real page turner to me and yet I found myself putting the book down more often than not. With little to no major character or plot development for practically half of the book I was bored instead of intrigued by the story.
Investigative reporter Jennie Quinn has always thrown herself both physically and emotionally into her stories. When her source of information on the local crime boss Claude Harwick is found dead Jennie makes it her mission to uncover the killer while still meeting her deadline for The Herald. Hoping to find another inside source, Jennie works undercover as a barmaid at the tavern run as a front for Harwick’s organization. For a few days she manages to stay unnoticed, making friends with her coworkers and keeping her ears open for any news about the murder. However, a spilled drink on the wrong henchman gets her some unwanted attention from Matthew Colton, Harwick’s right hand man and main enforcer.
Coming to Jennie’s rescue might have been a mistake for Matthew, since he cannot seem to get the beautiful redhead out of his mind. The way she speaks and some tell-tale clues from her clothing mark Jennie as someone foreign to the darker streets of London and yet she presents herself as an unassuming woman just trying to make a living. It doesn’t add up for the former Detective Inspector. When two other young women are found murdered with possible ties to Harwick’s murdered mistress, Matthew is prepared to keep Jennie under his protection until he can figure out exactly what her motives are and keep her away from a killer.
Things become complicated for Jennie’s investigation once Matthew begins his quest to protect her from Harwick’s gang. Her colleagues at The Herald constantly remind Jennie of the risks she’s taking if Matthew learns the truth. She cannot abandon her story nor can she stay away from the handsome man who could be more friend than foe. Everything Jennie knows about Matthew makes him out to be a disgraced figure who shouldn’t be trusted, yet his stubborn need to keep her from harm makes her question that assumption. Could he really have been responsible for the death of his partner and why would he have thrown his lot in with the worst sort of men?
When a Lady Deceives tries its best to be a Victorian Noir story full of shady criminal types, the hardboiled newspaper woman out for the story and showcasing the seedier side of people’s lives. Unfortunately all of those darker elements are just window dressing for an uninspired romance full of lust and strange character moments. During the first few chapters, readers are introduced to the elements of Jennie’s story; her heartfelt need to uncover corruption and seek out justice for the downtrodden in society. When the woman who promised evidence of Harwick’s villainy is found murdered all of Jennie’s righteous anger is brought forth and she will stop at nothing to uncover the killer and use her words to topple a criminal empire. So how does the intrepid reporter go about her task? By playing a barmaid and hoping that evidence will somehow fall into her lap.
Once she and Matthew begin their dance of seduction and evasion, the plotline is almost completely forgotten for a more ’Lather-Rinse-Repeat’ approach, with Jennie coming to work, Matthew griping at her about putting herself in danger by underestimating the criminals there, and the two of them kissing until they remember they’re both supposed to be keeping low profiles. This cycle becomes ridiculous, especially when I looked down at the progress meter and saw that 50% of the book was done and they were still just making goo-goo eyes at each other with no development of the mystery, the missing evidence or even the question as to Matthew’s true loyalty.
There is no tension or sense of the rising danger for Jennie and Matthew as they try to undermine Harwick’s organization. A rival criminal and his own group are introduced later in the story to create an even bigger threat to Jennie’s safety but this is more of a tacked on element. The serial murderer is revealed in the end but what I believe is supposed to be a final twist as to his true identity has no lead up or menace before the confrontation with our main characters. All the story elements aside from the romantic relationship feel choppy and have no flow to them other than Jennie is always in the thick of things.
When a Lady Deceives finishes stronger than it started but the monotony I felt reading the first half of the book kept my rating down. I hope that if Ms. Kingston intends on launching a new series from this title, the subsequent books will have a better balance of romance and action.