Beneath a Blood Red Moon

Come the Morning

Conquer the Night

Deep Midnight

The Lion in Glory

 
Beguiled by Shannon Drake
(HQN, $7.99, PG-13)ISBN 978-0-373-77131-8
**
Sometimes a little less complicated might be a whole lot more intriguing. At least that’s how I feel after reading this poor attempt at a late-Victorian romantic thriller.

Ally Grayson is on her way to her godfather’s castle when her coach is stopped by a highwayman. He steals a kiss. She gives him a lecture. After all, she has no reason to believe that the criminal is in fact a law enforcer engaged in rather unorthodox investigative techniques. Nor does she suspect what he quickly realizes: they are going to meet again at their betrothal party.

When eventually Ally arrives at her destination, she learns she has been engaged at birth to Mark Farrow. She is surprised, but accepts this news with little protest. Nor does her fiancé’s glaring absence bother her too much. She is much too preoccupied by a series of gruesome murders and the social unrest they are fanning. Determined to do her part for Queen Victoria and the Crown, she anonymously pens a series of articles where she defends the monarchy. She also shares her insights on the crimes and their motives. Her ideas intrigue Mark Farrow and his team of investigators.

After several encounters with Mark (both as himself and as the highwayman), Ally guesses what he is up to but decides not to let on. Instead, the two play each other: she knows he is the highwayman but pretends she doesn’t; he knows she knows but makes out he doesn’t. This power-play is one of the few entertaining moments in the novel. Beguiled would probably have worked better if it had limited itself to this romantic conflict instead of spinning complicated conspiracies out of thin air.

Mark eventually realizes Ally is hiding behind her own journalistic mask and worries about the danger her activities will bring. This becomes another source of conflict between the couple, but it is not played out with as much wit. On the contrary, Mark becomes a bit heavy-handed and all the more so when he realizes that Ally’s mysterious birth may have something to do with the murders.

This twist was my final undoing, but even without it the mystery plot would have lost me. On the one hand, clues were doled out so generously I was practically gagging. On the other hand, crucial elements were withheld until much too late, depriving me of the joy of figuring out the crime. What’s more, I’m still not clear on the motives behind the murders. Were they the acts of crazed serial killers? Were they politically motivated? That they are a mixture of the two seems reasonable, but then why do the investigators make such a fuss about it? Finally, if the mystery behind Alexandra’s birth and betrothal is such a big secret, why do so many know about it?

The only way I can make some sense of this confusion is by remembering that Beguiled is part of a loosely-connected series. Could Drake be using this novel to tie up threads from earlier ones? If so, she has only created further knots and tangles that I have little intention of unraveling. In any case, many of the characters mentioned here obviously have their own stories, or so the many reminders and allusions that interrupt the flow of the story would have us believe. These novels may be worth reading, but sadly neither the gratuitous publicity nor the poor plotting rank highly as trustworthy recommendations.

As for Beguiled, I have other reservations concerning the historical accuracy and the character arcs, but I think my point has been made. Despite a few good moments, it is not worth the money or the time.

--Mary Benn


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