Did you know that Lorraine Heath has earned DIK status six times at AAR?
This is, sadly, another one of those books I forced myself to read. Saying that, I must add that the last third of the story saved it from a much lower grade. While the plot deals with the meaty issues of spousal abuse and childhood poverty and crime, the characters were uninspiring and the situations too fantastic.
Lucian Langdon, referred to as the Devil Earl by Londonís aristocracy, may be the Earl of Claybourne, or he may not. Years earlier street ruffians attacked and killed the heir to Claybourne and later the next heir is murdered and the suspect arrested. Before the trial, the current Earl of Claybourne identifies the murderer as his long lost grandson, Lucian. Despite this, he then takes Luke and his band of Oliver Twist like urchins to rear. He trains to be the earl, but never believes it and neither does anyone else other than the man who claims to be his grandfather. As a result, London society shuns him and labels him a thief and murderer, which technically he is. This laughable premise is one of the main reasons I struggled to get into the book.
Lady Catherine Mabry finds herself in a desperate situation. Her father is infirm and her older brother has been gallivanting around the Continent for years. She makes decisions for the family and estates, and unfortunately, many of those decisions have not yielded the best of results. To make matters worse, her best friend is married to a brute who abuses her with his words and his fists. His last two wives died as a result of suspicious accidents and Catherine knows that time is growing short for her friend. She wants the abuser dead and the best way to do this is to go to the biggest, yet most competent scoundrel she knows Ė the Earl of Claybourne - and bargain with him to kill her friendís husband. Being a scoundrel and known murderer, Luke agrees but makes her promise to give the woman he wants to marry lessons on living within the ton.
What ensues, of course, is that Luke and Catherine fall in love as they continue to meet. However, problems abound. First, he plans to marry one woman but another wildly tempts him. Second, Catherine canít decide if she really wants to kill her friendís husband Ė it is a moral dilemma, after all.
The complicated plot and characters were a major eye-roller for me until about two-thirds of the way through the story. For the last one-third of the novel, however, beautifully written and intense scenes that focus primarily on the two main characters suddenly crop up. Until then I felt that the heroineís only claim to heroine status was that she wasnít as shallow as the rest of the aristocracy and could see what a good man Luke really was (even though heís hitting on her, yet promised to another). The hero is so determined to have the other woman and so eaten with guilt over other issues, that he canít recognize his own emotions. To make matters worse, the problems miraculously solves themselves far too neatly for all the complicated relationships that are involved.
While the story is unusual to some degree, with the Oliver Twist theme and constant references to it, I found it lackluster. Exquisite writing in the book's final third could not make up for major plotting problems and character issues.
-- Heather Brooks
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