The Spare is a historical suspense set in 1812 England. Most of the story is set within the walls of Pennhyll Manor, which has been in the Alexander family for many, many generations. Captain Sebastian Alexander has returned from sea to find his older brother and sister-in-law have been murdered. Sebastian inherits the family title, Earl of Tiern-Cope, great wealth and the huge, ancient Pennhyll mansion.
The circumstances of the death of Sebastian’s brother and his wife are mysterious. The murders occurred within the walls of Pennhyll while Sebastian was out at sea. There is one witness, Olivia Willow, who was herself almost murdered as well. She was lucky to have lived, but she lacks any memory of that day, as well as the day before and after. The murderer is still at large and the memories locked in Olivia’s head are Sebastian’s only hope of discovering who committed the crime.
Sebastian’s friend, James Fitzalan, has arranged for a house party at Pennhyll for a few weeks. Sebastian is seeking to marry in order to produce an heir, which is important because he is the last remaining Alexander. His orders are expected to come within a few weeks and he’ll be off to sea again, so he wants a wife who will be happy to marry for a title and money and won’t mind his lengthy absences. The house party has been organized to help Sebastian in picking a suitable bride from those eligible women in attendance. He is immediately fascinated by Olivia, but she is poor with no family, other than a crippled mother, and wouldn’t make a suitable bride for him. Others in attendance would be more appropriate. Sebastian does need to spend time with Olivia, however, to see if he can help her recall the details of that fatal night.
There is also the legend of the Black Earl, the 4th Earl of Tiern-Cope, who was murdered in his bedchamber hundreds of years ago and is said to haunt Pennhyll. There’s some talk of what his appearance in the presence of an Earl of Tiern-Cope is supposed to mean - maybe an imminent tragedy or marriage, no one is certain. He is said to appear annually on St. Agne’s Eve, the anniversary of his death, which just happens to be a couple of weeks away. The party plans to hold a ball that night for their entertainment and one of the guests comes up with the grand idea of holding a séance to summon the spirit of the Black Earl. Neither Sebastian nor Olivia believe in the legend, but they soon find themselves wondering.
The mysteries are very intriguing, but not without a big problem. Sebastian is an alpha male to beat all alpha males! He is arrogant, demanding, unfeeling, distant, socially inept, commanding, and completely unlikable. I enjoy a good alpha male as much as anyone, but this hero is way over the top. He’s constantly snapping orders at Olivia as if he’s not only the Earl but God himself. His character is devoid of almost any emotion, other than his sexual desire for Olivia. He does mellow a bit the more he finds himself falling in love, but not enough for the reader to feel completely comfortable with Olivia becoming besotted with him. On the other hand, the haunting, dream-like love scenes are very original and quite alluring.
Romance aside, there is the mystery of what happened the night Sebastian’s brother and his wife were murdered and the mystery of the Black Earl‘s ghost. The mystery of the Black Earl, which felt like it should be the secondary mystery, overshadowed the murder mystery for a large portion of the story. The two could have been better entwined within the story so the reader didn’t forget there was a murderer to find.
The haunting of the castle was fun to read about, especially during the tour of the mansion by the invited guests. The reader feels she’s actually there in the bowels of the mansion with everyone else. But when it comes to Sebastian being haunted, it’s almost as if there’s a puppy in the shadows instead of something to fear. Is he so unfeeling that he’s incapable of being scared, even in the least? His actions in these situations don’t come across as brave, just boring.
If you like a good ghost story and can accept the hero as an egotistical, cold and pompous Earl, you may find The Spare to be worth the read.