Best Laid Schemes

Entwined

A Grand Design

His Grace Endures

Irish Rogue

 
Fallen by Emma Jensen
(Ivy, $6.50, G) ISBN 0-8041-1955-4
****
Entertaining and cleanly written, Fallen was a welcome contrast to other books Iíve read lately, which, if you will excuse the paraphrase, contained a great deal of sound and fury that signified nothing.

Gabiel Louden, Earl of Rievaulx (approximately Ree-vo, as one of the characters obligingly tests out the pronunciation), is a former army intelligence officer. He was part of an elite spy corps gathering information on the French for Wellington, working with Nathan Paget (of Ms. Jensenís previous novel Entwined). Although we donít immediately know why, Gabriel left the army in disgrace and has spent the intervening years drowning his guilt in drink and dissolution in London.

Through all Gabrielís tribulations, Nathan has remained his one true friend. When the mysterious French spymaster Lí…cossais (The Scot) is traced to the Isle of Skye, Nathan conscripts Gabriel to go after him. Skye also happens to be the birthplace of Nathanís wife, and much of her family still lives there, including her sister, Maggie MacLeod, their father, Jamie, and the youngest sister, Tessa. Maggie is not only the islandís healer, but carries the entire responsibility for caring for her charming but alcoholic parent and the hoydenish Tessa. It is also suggested that Maggie, recently returned to her beloved Skye from England, suffered a deep romantic disappointment while on her travels.

Gabriel reluctantly accepts Nathanís assignment. When he arrives on Skye, he establishes his alibi for being there by looking up the MacLeod family and conveying Nathanís regards. Much to Maggieís chagrin, her father immediately insists that Gabriel stay with them, rather than at the local inn.

I canít say much more than that without giving away too much. An enjoyable - and all too unusual - element of this book is that the ďbackstoryĒ is not blurted out in the first few pages as though it was an annoying but necessary evil. Rather, Ms. Jensen gives the charactersí histories their due as an integral part of the tale sheís telling. You likely wonít find Maggie and Gabrielís secrets very surprising, but the information is told intelligently without any of the patronizing nudging and winking that too many authors mistake for suspense or dramatic irony.

The upshot is that pieces of the charactersí stories form a sort of breadcrumb trail for the reader to follow until they converge at the spot where we find Maggie and Gabriel. Itís the kind of mental puzzle-solving I think real readers like to do.

Although the framework of Fallen is the catching of a spy, this is not an ďactionĒ book by any means. Until the activity heats up right at the very end as Gabriel gets closer to his goal, the pace is pretty leisurely but the fluid writing carried me along and kept me interested. At no point, for example, did I find myself tempted to skim passages or skip ahead. I was always interested in what I was reading and all of it was both purposeful and intriguing.

I do have a couple of quibbles, however, and they are these. The romantic tension developed at the same leisurely pace as the story. As a result, the relationship between Maggie and Gabriel really didnít really heat up until almost halfway through the book. Thereís a fine line between anticipation and frustration and, for me, more sexual tension would have kept the romance from seeming a little tepid. In addition, while Maggie and Gabriel were cleanly written, I would have liked more depth. I liked these characters and wanted to see more of their own internal struggles with the choices they were making.

Finally, perhaps the downside of the bookís deliberate pace was that, while I was interested while reading, I did not find myself actively looking for opportunities to pick it back up once Iíd put it down. Perhaps if Iíd been teased a little more strongly, a little earlier, about how events were going to unfold, Iíd have found it just that bit more compelling.

Although these things kept it from being a keeper for me, on the whole I found it a satisfying and enjoyable read.

--Judi McKee


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