Beyond Scandal

Captive

The Conqueror

The Finer Things

Outlaw Love

Perfect Secrets

The Rival

Splendor

 
The Third Heiress by Brenda Joyce
(St. Martin’s Press, $23.95, PG) ISBN: 0-312-20387-X
**
Brenda Joyce is a multi-faceted author credited with many successful historical romances. Unfortunately, her first hardcover contemporary romance with its disjointed narrative interrupted by bits of a diary, more than a little ghostly angst, and an unsolved murder combine to make The Third Heiress a less than satisfying read.

A fatal accident on Long Island’s North Shore shatters a young woman’s hopes for a future brighter than her sad past. Jill Gallagher and fiancé, Harold [Hal] Sheldon, head east for a weekend getaway. Jill is excited. She has worked hard to become a professional dancer in New York City. She is on the brink of a long run in a successful Broadway show, and after her dating Hal for eight months, he has asked her to marry him. Her future looks bright

But as Jill drives along, Hal speaks of second thoughts, a desire to go back to England, his duty to his family and a need to step back and rethink their relationship. The next thing she knows Jill is regaining consciousness following an auto accident. Unfortunately for her piece of mind, Hal dies in her arms, professing to love not Jill, but an unknown woman named Kate.

Accompanying Hal’s body back to London, Jill feels great guilt about having caused his death in the auto accident, but she insinuates herself within his grieving family group. Despite repeatedly asserting that she cares for his mother, Jill shows up at the family manse to pursue her personal investigation of the identity of the mysterious Kate. Before too long, with the help of oddly she-likes-me-she-likes-me-not family members, Jill begins to realize her fiancé was a user in more ways than one.

Though this is a contemporary work, the mystery in The Third Heiress stems from an event occurring at the turn of the century when nouveau riche Americans thirsted for all things British. Unfortunately, all of this never rises above a trivial plot device rather than a great tragedy. With the exception of annoying, frequent references to designer dresses, cashmere sweaters and Land Rovers, this novel lacks exactitude.

In the end, the book’s attempt at mystery falls short, the villain of the piece is apparent to the reader before becoming truly villainous. Perhaps the biggest mystery is the basis for a romantic relationship between Jill and Hal’s transplanted American cousin, Alex Preston, as they teeter between suspicion and lust to the very end. At no time is there a sign of any warmth, simpatico, or even friendship between these two.

Romantic fiction with an historical focus might have been a good choice for Joyce’s hardcover debut. But including a proactive ghost haunting a Yorkshire “Tower” and some nearly incestuous, clearly obsessive relationships leaves this contemporary, romantic suspense falling flat.

However, if the collision of the parvenu with old-monied aristocracy appeals, then The Third Heiress may work better for you.

--Sue Klock


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