When the Rogue Returns
When the Rogue Returns is an entertaining and undemanding read – I whipped through it in a couple of sessions – but the fast pacing and the intriguing storyline of the re-building of a marriage couldn’t quite disguise the fact that the characterization was somewhat thin and that the plot hinged on one element which was too contrived for my taste.
Of course, most fiction – and perhaps romantic fiction most of all – does make use of circumstance and coincidence in order to further the plot. Long-lost siblings or parents, evil relatives, missing heirs – all of those have been used as plot devices over the centuries, and on the whole, I say if it was good enough for Shakespeare, then it’s good enough for everyone else!
But this was one of those times when I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief enough to accept it.
I read the previous book in this series – What the Duke Desires – last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, giving it 4.5 stars on Goodreads. As a result, I had high hopes for this sequel, in which the hero is Victor Cale, the long-lost cousin of Maximillian Cale, Duke of Lyons. Max found Victor – seriously ill – in France and brought him back to England where he has publicly acknowledged him as his cousin and treats him like a brother.
At the beginning of this book, Victor is feeling rather bored by his new life in London, and wants something to do. He approaches Dominic Manton of Manton Investigations (the company which was indirectly responsible for his being found by Max) with a view to becoming an investigator for them. Dominic assigns him to a simple case; Lady Lochlaw believes her son, Baron Lochlaw, is considering marriage to a woman who has designs on his fortune and wants the agency to look into her past and dig up any dirt. Victor jumps at the chance to take on the case – but for reasons other than his desire to prove his suitability as an investigator.
What his friends don’t know is that Victor is married and that his wife deserted him almost ten years ago, after just a week of marriage. Isabella – or Isa – is an extremely talented designer and maker of jewelry with a special gift for making high quality paste gems, not for nefarious purposes, but rather as a means for less well-off women to be able to afford to wear something beautiful.
After a short courtship and a blissful week of marriage, Isa disappeared following the theft of the royal diamond parure (a parure is a matching set of jewels designed to be worn together). The reader learns in the prologue that Isa’s sister and brother-in-law carried out the theft, replacing the originals with paste items made by Isa when the set was sent to be cleaned, and that they then manipulate both Isa and Victor into believing the other is responsible. They flee to Paris, telling Isa that Victor will join them there, all the while having led him to believe that Isa has abandoned him and only married him to make use of his position as a guard at the jeweler shop in order to perpetrate the theft.
With no other suspects, Victor is arrested, but a lengthy period of interrogation, is released through lack of evidence. But by that time, the trail has gone cold and he has no idea whatsoever where to begin to look for Isa.
Victor has never stopped looking for her whenever and wherever he could, his love for her now subsumed by his desire to bring her to justice for her crimes and to have revenge on her for breaking his heart. So when he learns that the subject of his investigation is a woman who has a talent for making paste jewellery…well, to say he’s keen to get started is an understatement.
While the story, once it gets going after this, is well-paced with a plenty of sexual tension between Victor and Isa and a devious twist on the part of Isa’s scheming relatives towards the end, the way things were set into motion was so contrived that it continued to annoy me throughout the rest of the novel, which was a shame, because it really isn’t a bad book.
The distrust that naturally exists between Victor and Isa and the conflict it causes between them is not strung out unnecessarily; so by around the halfway point, all has been confessed and they realize that they had both been pawns in the scheme to steal the royal jewels. But that doesn’t mean that everything in the garden is rosy, because although they have talked about the things that separated them, they are both nurturing deep-rooted suspicions which mean that they continue to hold back snippets of important information from each other.
On the one hand, I could understand their reasoning, but on the other I wanted to smack them both and tell them to work it out and move on!
I felt that the characterization of both leads – and Victor especially – was rather thin. I was about halfway into the book and realized that I didn’t have much of a sense of who he really was. Of the two, Isa was probably the most well-rounded, and I liked the way that the timid young woman we meet at the beginning has become so much more independent and self-confident. But Victor remained fairly two-dimensional throughout the book; he was so consumed by resentment and suspicion that I often felt that was all there was to him. I can understand that this may have partly been because Isa doesn’t really know him, and that perhaps the author’s intent was for the reader to find out about Victor’s past when the heroine does (and if you haven’t read the previous book, then there will be gaps that need filling in) – but if that is the case, it’s very frustrating.
The fact that the protagonists are already married affords the author the chance to put in a couple of steamy sex-scenes fairly early on, but it did seem a bit of a stretch that the pair – who have been apart for almost ten years and who were married for only a week – would jump into bed so quickly, especially with so many unresolved issues between them. (And also that they would have such good memories about how much great sex they had in that one week of marriage ten years ago!)
When it comes down to it, I did enjoy When the Rogue Returns, but it had too many weaknesses for me to be able to rate it more highly. With some books, there are elements of characterization or plot or emotional content that are so strong that it’s possible to overlook or underplay faults, but I’m afraid that wasn’t the case here. The elements that worked – the re-building of the trust between Isa and Victor, the side-plot involving the very sweetly nerdish Baron Lochlaw and the machinations of Isa’s evil relations – weren’t quite good enough to erase my memories of the massive coincidence at the beginning and the lack of depth in the characterization.
If you’ve read the first book in the series, and are someone who likes to read each book in a series, then I’d say you’ve nothing to lose by reading this one as it’s certainly an engaging read. But if you you’re thinking of picking this one up as representative of the series, I’d advise reading When the Duke Desires first as I thought it was a much stronger book.