This book is being marketed as a blend of mystery and romance, but in spite
of its contemporary setting and popular mystery-weekend premise, its gothic
novel origins are unmistakable. The setting is a medieval (albeit
modernized) castle; the hero is the owner of said castle, the heroine has
come to the castle for an innocent purpose, and people are turning up dead.
Three years ago Jon Stuart held a charity mystery event for fellow mystery
writers at his Scottish castle. During this event, his beautiful,
sophisticated, dissatisfied wife died in a mysterious fall from her bedroom
balcony. Now Jon has invited all the same people back for a repeat
function with the secret intention of discovering the truth behind
In addition, he has invited Sabrina Holloway, also a
successful mystery writer, who was not at the first event but who shared a
brief but memorable sexual encounter with Jon (described by Sabrina's
sister as "the faster-than-speeding-bullet affair"). In spite of this
fantastic sex and their deep feelings for each other, Sabrina had fled into
the night (does this ring any gothic novel bells?), and both had wed others
with disastrous results. Sabrina's ex-husband, the slimy two-timing Brett
who wants her back, is also one of the guests.
Each of the guests is given a fictional persona to portray in a mystery
story line with only Jon's capable secretary knowing the secret of the
whodunit. In addition, a wax museum display featuring famous murders is on
view in the dungeon; the artist has sculpted wax figures using guests' faces
for some of the victims and perpetrators.
Before the pretend mystery can get underway, mysterious events begin to
occur and the weather forecast is ominous. What's the reaction of Jon's
guests to this menacing atmosphere? "Gin and tonic, please."
This story has a number of faults and most of them have to do with the
First of all, there're too many of them. Not only are there a gaggle of
mystery writers assembled, each of them has a second identity. I could
have used a program: I found it impossible to keep some of the secondary
characters separate without referring back to the initial introductory
scene. Only Jon, Sabrina, and Brett were distinguishable from the others
in the crowd.
By and large, they're not very nice people. If you've always suspected
that the rich and famous aren't as nice as me and thee, this will confirm
your worst suspicions. I would imagine that it's easier for a writer to
bump off nasty characters than the nice ones. This crew provides plenty of
candidates for a swift demise.
And their character motivation is highly suspect.
These are supposedly intelligent, literate people, but they display the
classic symptoms of the gothic heroine. A gunshot has been fired; a bullet
is discovered; the winter weather is worsening. Do the guests say, "Hey! I
recognize this plot! I'm taking the next train outta here?" No, they all
say they want to stay because they're having too much fun. Excuse me, but
where's the fun? They're all standing around trashing the reputation of
their host's deceased wife, casting snide aspersions on each other, and
viewing the grisly wax figures in the dungeon. Even our heroine Sabrina
who's being subjected to some of the worst sexual harassment on record by
her slimeball ex-husband (it escapes me why she ever would have married
this creep) doesn't have the good sense to pull out. When the dead bodies
started piling up, my reaction was that they had it coming.
To add to the confusion, interspersed with the main plot line are segments
of threatening dialogue whereby the secret villain's thoughts and intentions
can ratchet up the spooky atmosphere.
Put it all together: wax museum in dungeon, approaching winter storm, evil
villain with fiendish agenda. What're the odds our lovely innocent
heroine's going to be in dire peril? Slipping down to the dungeon alone?
I found the basic premise for the plot to be too unrealistic to accept and
the characters too unsympathetic to care about. Perhaps some readers might
enjoy this hybrid of mystery, romance, and gothic elements blended with Ms.
Pozzessere's signature style (mirrored beginning and ending scenes). For
me, slogging through this morass of characters on characters was no
pleasant task. Even though the hero and heroine are likable, their romance
is greatly overshadowed by all that's going on around them.
In fact, it's a misnomer to call this a romance at all. This is a gothic
mystery in modern-day clothing. If that appeals, books by Mary Stewart or
Phyllis Whitney would be a better choice than this.