|Characters can make or break a story. In the case of Sari Robins’ One Wicked Night, the heroine alone is enough to break it.
In 1810 England, Lillian Kane presents herself to the world as Lord Dillon’s mistress. In reality, she lives under Dillon’s protection only to escape from her abusive stepfather, Lord Kane. Lillian meets Nicholas (Nick) Redford when she leaves the noise of a ballroom for a quiet garden outside. Nick warns her that a snake is near. Once Lillian is safe, she learns that Nick is a police officer who wants to open his own enquiry agency. They talk for several minutes before Dillon comes looking for her.
Although brief, their conversation leads Lillian to develop romantic fantasies with Nick as the star. More than a year after their first meeting, Lillian reads a notice in the paper and sees that Nick has opened his agency. A short time later, Dillon is set up for murder and Lillian desperately needs Nick’s help. Therein lies the rub. Nick refuses, so she decides to take drastic action. Lillian’s friend Fanny advises, “You seduce Redford and he’ll take the case.”
Fanny and Lillian concoct a scheme. They believe that once Nick realizes that she is a virgin, he is sure to realize that he might be wrong about Dillon’s guilt. In One Wicked Night, this kind of non sequitur is presented as common sense. To that end, they drug and strip him, tie him to the bed, critique his anatomy, and leave him sprawled out for Lillian.
As you might imagine, Nick isn’t particularly pleased when he comes out of his drug haze. He is, nonetheless, all too happy to oblige Lillian. And eventually, Nick agrees to investigate. The rest of the story follows a course one would expect: Nick and Lillian work together to solve the mystery, and they call in love along the way.
One Wicked Night is a blend of drama and comedy, but much of the humor falls flat. Take the drugging incident, for example. It’s presented as essentially harmless, simply a means to an end. Then there’s the fact that Fanny and Lillian ogle Nick while he’s unconscious. Fanny says, “This is a golden opportunity. You might as well enjoy the view.” I wouldn’t find this funny if the victim were a woman, so why would it be funny simply because the victim is a man? The only amusing thing about this scene occurs when Lillian touches Nick’s ribcage and says it’s “like a baby’s bottom” — but I don’t believe Robins intends this to be funny.
That brings me to the main problem I have with this book: Lillian. It’s odd enough that she would create develop elaborate romantic feelings for someone she has a 10-minute conversation with, but it’s more understandable when you consider the fact that she has had one positive relationship with a man in her life — Dillon — and it’s platonic. So she might naturally have feelings that seem immature. What I don’t understand is why Lillian goes along with Fanny’s plan, but responds indignantly when Nick wants her to go with him when he has to pursue another case. Never mind the fact that she was attacked the night before. Lillian balks when she believes that she’s the one being coerced. “I will not be manipulated into doing your bidding,” she snaps. I guess it’s only OK when she’s doing the manipulating. Then she complains that a kiss is “not a way to win an argument.” No, we’ve already seen that winning an argument requires one of the parties to be tied to a bed.
Nick is more interesting, but I couldn’t understand what he saw in Lillian. This, combined with some surprisingly modern turns of phrase, makes One Wicked Night a book I suggest you avoid.