As usual, I regret that I didn’t review this sooner. My memories of this book are fuzzier than I’d like, but at least I took notes while reading. I’ll do the best I can.
Beth Ackerley used to be an elderly woman’s companion until the woman died and left everything to her. Now Beth is a wealthy but lonely widow. She thinks that marrying Lyndon Mather will help relieve her loneliness, until Lord Ian Mackenzie warns her about Mather’s mistresses. Since her idea about remarrying didn’t work out, Beth decides to travel to Paris and spend her time painting instead (never mind that she has never painted before in her life).
The thing is, Ian has decided that Beth is going to be his wife - not because he has fallen instantly in love with her, but rather because he wants to have sex with her, and sex with a respectable lady like Beth requires marriage (even Beth wonders at the logic of this). He follows her to Paris, where she asks that the two of them be lovers, but nothing more. The situation is complicated by several murders. An inspector warns Beth that Ian is probably the killer and can’t be trusted, while Beth finds herself unable to believe that Ian could ever murder anyone. But Ian is definitely hiding something…
I had heard lots of good things about this book when it first came out. It’s been sitting in my TBR for ages, and a recent Booklikes Romance Readalong gave me a reason to finally dig into it. It...was not what I’d hoped for.
One of the appeals of this book is its unusual hero, who the author wrote as having Asperger’s syndrome. Those exact words were never used in the text - Ian was instead called “mad” and committed to an insane asylum by his own father when he was only 10 years old. He was later released by his eldest brother. In the book’s present, Ian obsessively collects Ming bowls and considers himself incapable of love.
I’d love to read a review of this book written by someone with Asperger’s. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about this aspect of the book. On the one hand, the details of Ian’s behavior fit with what little I knew about Asperger’s. On the other hand, I wondered about the accuracy of the book’s depiction of Ian’s relationships with others.
It bugged me, a lot, that for most of the book Ian couldn’t seem to interact with Beth in any way except sexually. Sometimes they talked about their personal lives, but their conversations almost always veered towards sex, even before Beth broke off her engagement to Mather (which, by the way, struck me as hypocritical). I expect romance novels to have actual romance in them, but for the most part this book just had lusting and sex. And as much as Beth referred to Ian as her “friend,” there was also very little in the way of what I’d call “friendship building” scenes.
There were some nice moments. For example, I loved the scene in which Beth rattled off some details about Ian’s newest Ming bowl acquisitions and then told Ian that she’d picked up a book on the subject. This was the kind of thing I’d have liked to see more of. Unfortunately, I could probably count these kinds of lovely scenes on one hand. I felt like Beth and Thomas, Beth’s deceased husband, had a stronger and more appealing on-page relationship than Beth and Ian. Awkward.
Aside from my issues with Ian and Beth’s almost purely sexual relationship, I also had problems with Beth in particular. For a woman who considered herself to be at least a little worldly, she had terrible self-preservation instincts. That’s the only thing I can think of to explain her decision to ask Ian to be her lover when, only minutes before, an inspector told her that Ian might be a murderer. I couldn’t understand why Beth believed in Ian so strongly. I mean, through less rosy lenses Ian’s behavior could easily have been interpreted as that of a predator. Shortly after meeting Beth, he told her things he knew would prompt her to end her engagement to Mather. Then he relentlessly pursued her, despite only recently having met her. Oh, and he also attempted to strangle the inspector right in front of her.
Then there was the scene in which Beth agreed to marry Ian. I loathed that scene and, if I had been Beth, I’d have held what Ian and Mac did against them for a long time. They decided they knew what was best for her, and then they did their best to make sure she had little choice but to go along with them. I wish she had raged at them, or been icily angry at them. Instead she just gave in. Some of the best moments in Ian and Beth’s relationship happened after this point, but absolutely none of it was good enough to make up for that one scene. I’m not a book thrower, but I came very close to doing just that.
Anyway, the mystery subplot was interesting and kept me going, even though the resolution was messy and unsatisfying. This was a quick read that kept my attention, but unfortunately it wasn't anywhere near as good as I had expected it to be. Also, none of the very obvious sequel-bait left me with a desire to read anything else in this series. Mac and Isabella’s relationship, in particular, struck me as being more unpleasant than intriguing.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)