Slightly Shady should have been an outstanding read. For fans of Amanda Quick’s lightly suspenseful historicals, this is trademark Quick: independent heroine, darker hero who reluctantly is drawn into love, villains pushing them together. But it felt curiously flat, with little sparkle to the romance. At the end of the story, I could have easily imagined the lead characters simply going their separate ways.
Lavinia Lake is making a living in Rome by running an “antiquities” shop that specializes in reproductions. She’s supporting her niece, Emeline, after they were stranded in Rome when the dowager to whom Lavinia was acting as a companion ran off with a count and left them penniless. (This is covered in some rather awkward dialogue between Emeline and Lavinia, who already know their story, so why would they be retelling it to each other?) When the story opens, a man named Tobias March is in the shop, smashing the reproductions to bits and insisting that Lavinia pack for a return journey to London.
Tobias is on the trail of a diminishing ring of thieves and murderers known as the Blue Chamber, who have been using the shop as a communications point. Tobias returns later that night to trap the leader, killing the man but being wounded in the leg. Now there is only one man left to find: the mastermind behind the gang. His identity may be contained in a diary that is now floating about London.
Back in London, Lavinia is approached by a blackmailer who threatens to tell Society about her phony antiquities shop and her ties, however innocent, to a thieves’ gang. Knowing this will ruin her, Lavinia quickly deduces the blackmailer’s identity and sneaks into his house at night to try and locate the diary. She finds the man dead on the floor and Tobias March in the room. Their paths have intertwined, and when they join forces to locate the diary and determine the identity of the Blue Chamber’s leader their hearts will intertwine as well.
An Amanda Quick novel always has something to enjoy, and this is no exception. The dialogue is witty and sparkles; Tobias is empathetic as a man who just wants this whole business over with, and what is he going to do about this exasperating woman who insists on “helping” with his investigation? Lavinia doesn’t fare as well. First, there’s the aspect of her personality that has her barging right into Tobias’ business, claiming she can investigate just as well as he can. She even goes so far as to decide she’ll set herself up in business as a private investigator, and has business cards printed. Sigh. Characters who aren’t smart enough to realize what they don’t know are not fun to read about. Lavinia does eventually contribute to the investigation, but her brash personality didn’t make her very likable.
Tobias alternates between annoyed and intrigued. He wants to kiss Lavinia, but she’s driving him mad. This continues for much of the book. I caught plenty of sparks between this couple, but few, if any, felt like anything that could lead to an emotional bond. In short, the romance felt forced and unnatural.
What didn’t feel forced was the secondary romance between Emeline and Tobias’ young brother-in-law, Anthony. Emeline is a perfect blend of sweetness, smarts, and sass, and their budding relationship was charming.
The suspense aspect was fairly tense, and readers may not catch the villain’s identity right away. A nice number of red herrings will keep you on your toes.
In summary, Slightly Shady is standard Amanda Quick, and if you’ve been longing for another dose, you’ll probably enjoy it. A flat heroine and an equally flat romance made it a forgettable read for me. At $23.95, the best I can recommend is to wait for the paperback or head for your local library.