Pandora's Box

Not So Innocent

Laura Lee Guhrke
2002, European Historical Romance (1890s [Victorian] England)
Pocket, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0671023691

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Not So Innocent takes place in London and its environs in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Mick Dunbar, a detective with Scotland Yard, is celebrating his 36th birthday when he meets Sophie Haversham.

Sophie is psychic, and she comes to Scotland Yard to tell the police that she's had a premonition of a violent death. When she sees Mick, she knows he is the intended victim. When Mick narrowly avoids being killed later that night, he is sure Sophie knows who is responsible. He decides to launch a full-scale investigation, and begins by taking a room in the boarding house run by Sophie and her aunt.

As Mick gets to know Sophie, he becomes convinced that she is honest, but he can't quite bring himself to believe that she can see future events. At the same time, the two share an attraction that's tough to ignore.

Linda:   I read Laura Guhrke's book Breathless a couple of years ago and enjoyed it a great deal, so I was quite happy when we selected her new one. My impression of her writing from Breathless has been confirmed and I can see a glom of her backlist coming on. Guhrke creates characters that I like and care about. Mick was great from the very first page. The angst he suffered on his 36th birthday reminded me of many a friends' mid-life crises. Watching him shave off his graying mustache in hopes of looking younger was clever and realistic.

Blythe:  I have Breathless TBR (I picked it up at the RWA book fair this summer), but I read and liked Guhrke's Revolutionary War novel, The Charade.

Not So Innocent is a bit of a departure for Guhrke; she's crossed the pond with this one, which is set in London at the close of the nineteenth century. For the most part, I also liked this one. Like you, I loved the opening segment with Mick getting teased about his birthday, and I loved that he was unapologetic about his background. I also liked Sophie and her family. At the beginning of the book, the following sentences had me LOL:

"Only Aunt Violet understood her and accepted her just as she was. That was why Sophie now lived with Auntie. Aunt Violet didn't question how she knew things, how she could predict future events, or why she could sometimes sense what other people were thinking. Of course, Auntie was also a spiritualist who thought herself the reincarnation of Cleopatra and had an inconvenient love for other people's jewelry."

Linda:   Yes, I snickered at that, too, and my hubby kept asking me what was so funny. What I really liked was that she made Aunt Violet eccentric, but never went over the line into slapstick and she was so endearing that I could easily see why Sophie loved her and wanted to protect her.

Sophie was a wonderful heroine with brains and spunk. "Gifted" with a psychic ability she feels is a curse, she has learned to cope in a world where people consider her a freak. I loved her and Mick together and I especially enjoyed the time period of the book. The turn of the century is not often done and yet it was a very interesting time what with the rapid changes in lifestyle for the average person abutting the stiff class system that was still in place.

Blythe:  It would have been easy for Aunt Violet to be a caricature, but you're right; she was very endearing. One of my favorite parts of the book was when Sophie really felt called upon to protect Violet. I'm dancing around a spoiler here, so I'll just say that I loved how the situation played out. I also found the rest of Sophie's family well done. Her mother and sister were very irritating, yet they were believable. I just finished another book with the usual staff of cardboard secondary characters, so I appreciated this crowd.

The book bogged down for me a bit in two respects. The first has do to with the heroine's psychic ability. In most paranormal books, the conflict begins with the believability of the character. When someone is psychic, or a super-hero, or a time traveler, or whatever, I always feel the plot is at a standstill until the other half of the couple believes in the paranormal phenomenon, and I felt Mick's disbelief went on long past the point where it was interesting. I just wanted to shake him and tell him to just believe her and get it over with so they could move on. My second hang-up had to do with the villain, who suddenly got very graphic and gross toward the end. It just seemed unexpected to me, so I was taken aback.

Linda:  Mick could have accepted it earlier, but I liked the fact that he went along with her based on her feeling even though he was still skeptical. To a man like Mick, who is truly a self-made man, I felt it was believable that had he had trouble accepting Sophie's "talent." I really liked the interaction between this couple, and when they had sex, I felt there was a true emotional connection between them. I really like Guhrke's writing style, I literally couldn't put the book down and read it in under 4 hours - which is a little faster then usual for me.

Blythe:  I liked their relationship too, and enjoyed the love scene. And I agree that Mick's doubt was natural; after all, if someone showed up on my doorstep claiming to see the future, I would be unlikely to believe them. My problem is that I just get tired of that type of conflict early on. That's why I stopped watching the X-Files after a season or two. I couldn't see why Scully bothered to argue with Mulder when we all knew Mulder would end up being right every time.

Linda:   LOL, that show was always too scary for me to watch. The end of the book seemed to suggest that this could be the first in a series, I sure hope so as I would really enjoy watching this couple solve mysteries together and think they could be as fun as the Pitts (Anne Perry's Victorian detectives). The fact that I hated to see the book end and I hope for another featuring them, is certainly a compliment to the author for creating a dynamic and different couple.

Also, while this book is very much romantic suspense, the emphasis was always on Mick and Sophie and their efforts - they never got lost in the action. I like romantic suspense because I have an expectation that the couple will stay together in any future books and I don't have to worry that a romance author will kill off the hero or heroine somewhere down the road a la Charlaine Harris. I was so outraged by Harris killing off a hero in one of her mystery series after about after 5 books that I would never trust her enough to read her again.

Blythe:  Well, Guhrke is changing publishers (from Pocket to Avon), so I'm not sure if the characters will be moving with her. I guess that depends on her interest - and her contract. I wouldn't mind reading another book about them at all, though. They are a far sight better than Brenda Joyce's annoying mysteries Deadly Love and Deadly Pleasure. I hope that in any case Guhrke sticks to the slightly offbeat settings, because I like them. I kept comparing this one to Kinsale's The Shadow and the Star, which is also set at the time of Victoria's Jubilee. While I would say that the Kinsale book had the more finely crafted and detailed setting, I thought Guhrke did a respectable job here too.

Linda:   I will have to try the Kinsale book, I have the Joyce series in my TBR pile but haven't gotten to it yet. I do like this late Victorian time period and it makes a nice change from the Regency, which has been over done of late.

One of the things I like about reading romance is seeing favorite characters in connected books. I love seeing the couple from the first book happily functioning together in subsequent books. Coulter's Sherbrooke series, Garwood's romantic suspense, and Amanda Quick's last two Regency-set historicals (Slightly Shady and Don't Look Back) spring to mind. One of the reasons I stopped watching soaps after 30 years was that I was sick of the fact that as soon as a couple married, one of them was killed, or disappeared or they were broken up for some senseless reason - which was really that the writers didn't know what to do with a happy couple. Revisiting favorite couples reassures us that there can be couples happily functioning and still in love after overcoming whatever obstacles 'their' book provided them.

Blythe:  I like revisiting favorite couples too, as long as they play a real part in the story and aren't just there for their token appearance. I hate reading the climax of a long series in which past couples all appear for show at the end of the book. I think a good example of a past hero and heroine playing a real part in the plot is SEP's This Heart of Mine, where we see Dan and Phoebe from It Had to Be You as real, active participants. And although I did parody Putney in my last year's PPP contest entry, I also think she handles character reappearances well in her Fallen Angels series. I would be curious to know whether Guhrke plans to continue with this couple. As far as I know, her other books are not connected in any way. (Editor's note, books are not connected.)

Linda:  I like it better when the returning couple has an active part too, but sometimes - as in one of Coulter's books - the appearance at a party can be fun. One of her couples, who couldn't keep their hands off each other, had about eight kids when they were next seen at a London ball. I loved it and it was a believable ending for this couple.

I really liked Not So Innocent and it continued a good week of reading. This helps make up for the rut I've been in for a while. I've now read three good books in a row.

Blythe:  I would also give this book a thumbs up, and it was much better than the dud I just finished (D review coming soon to a review site near you). I did take some time last month to read Judith Ivory's Untie My Heart, which I really enjoyed. It was the first of hers I've read, though, of course, her backlist is in my TBR pile.

Linda:   I have been a little afraid to read Ivory again as I loathed Beast - by the end of that book I felt the two jerk characters truly deserved each other and an "unhappily ever after ending." The two books I really enjoyed this week were Judith Lansdowne's first full-length historical (I think), The Mystery Kiss, which featured a very special hero and heroine, and Sherilyn Kenyon's Fantasy Lover. I was totally surprised by the latter as I was expecting no more than a love slave sex-fest (which is sometimes fun) and instead got a book with two characters I truly cared about and a really nice plot. I just ordered Kenyon's next one, Night Pleasures from Amazon. AAR has two reviews up, one is B and the other a D-. It will be fun to see which reviewer I agree with.

Blythe:  You'll have to let me know. I have a few books I really need to read right now for review, but I'm hoping to take some time in the next month or so to read books I've missed during the year that I think could figure in my voting for the readers' poll. At the top of my pile are Carla Kelly's The Wedding Journey (just picked this up last night), Anne Gracie's An Honorable Thief, and Nora Roberts' Chesapeake Blue. In between those I will have to squeeze in next month's Pandora... what'll we be reading then?

Linda:  Next month we are reading Scandal by Heather Cullman. She's new to me and I'm looking forward to it as I have discovered some new auto-buys from reading new-to-me authors for review. Cullman really deserves a huge thank from us as she took time to mail our ARCs on her way out of the country to England and Scotland.

Life here is hectic as we are preparing to move. One advantage though is that I am paring my TBR pile down to a "get real" (am I really going to read this?) list. As I pare I have been plucking stuff off the pile and reading, which is how I stumbled onto the Kenyon and Lansdowne books. I am sure that I will quickly rebuild my TBR once I get moved. <g> Hope you and all our readers have a Happy Holiday season and happy reading.

Blythe:  I'll second the wishes - and add one for a happy reading year in 2003. See you next month.

-- Pandora's Box

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