|Set in turn-of-the-century New York, Brenda Joyce’s Deadly Illusions is the latest installment in a series featuring amateur investigator Francesca Cahill. While the mystery stands alone, the relationships between characters made me feel like I had stumbled into the middle of the story. I caught up, but readers who follow the series are likely to enjoy this book more than I did.
Francesca is investigating a murderer known as the Slasher, who is targeting Irishwomen. Her friendship (and previous romantic relationship) with police commissioner Rick Bragg gives her unique freedom to investigate. In her personal life, Francesca is engaged to Calder Hart, Rick’s half-brother and a former womanizer. While she investigates, Francesca worries that she will not be enough for Calder and that he will stray.
The romance in Deadly Illusions is unconventional; it took some time for me to figure out whether Rick or Calder was the hero. I haven’t read the previous books in the series, and it does take time to catch up with the relationships. Apparently Francesca fell in love with Rick until she discovered that he was married, albeit estranged from his wife. Then Francesca experiences a whirlwind courtship with Calder, which results in their engagement.
The book includes scenes from the point of view of both men, and while Francesca’s relationship with Calder is more passionate, she seems more comfortable and affectionate with Rick. Even though Rick has a subplot, he and Calder are portrayed as rivals: Rick believes Calder is selfish, while Calder is jealous of Rick’s relationship with Francesca. He is a good match for Francesca in at least one respect; he has no objection to her “sleuthing” as long as she is safe. Calder clearly believes that his half-brother is the better man and that he is Francesca’s second choice.
Even more puzzling is the fact that so many characters believe Calder’s future infidelity is inevitable. After having a conversation with Calder’s former mistress, Francesca talks to a friend: “Daisy pointed out that eventually Hart will lose interest in me and find someone else. She is right! Isn’t she? I mean, he has had so many lovers, all far more intriguing than myself.” The ex-mistress clearly has a motive to upset Francesca, but she isn’t the only one to express this opinion. Rick believes Calder will stray. Even Calder worries that he will stray. Perhaps previous books in the series explain why this is such a big concern, but it wasn’t made clear in this story.
As for the mystery, Francesca’s investigation goes smoothly; in fact, I’d say too smoothly. The book is set in 1902 — not the Regency period — but Francesca still enjoys significant freedom for a young single woman. She doesn’t have to do much digging, either. The investigation is very straightforward.
In spite of its flaws, Deadly Illusions kept me reading, and I was interested in learning what would happen to the characters. But I didn’t find the book to be especially memorable.