Kiss Me Goodnight by Marlene Suson
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-79560-4
****
In Kiss Me Goodnight, Marlene Suson has put together a winning recipe for a successful historical romance. The recipe includes an intelligent, sensitive and very likeable hero; an equally intelligent, gutsy and likeable heroine; a truly despicable villain and a compelling historical backdrop. Although I have a few quibbles, for the most part I very much enjoyed this story.

Aloysius Shane Howard Howell, sixth Marquess of Sherbourne, needs to get away from England and the sad memories it holds. Six years ago, Shane lost his wife when she gave birth to their son, Jeremy. Shane devoted himself to the sickly boy only to lose him to consumption when Jeremy was but five years of age. Seeking solitude to grieve and hoping to find some peace, Shane travels to Canamara, an estate in Ireland he inherited from his Irish grandfather.

Because Shane has never been to Ireland before, he knows he can stay at Canamara anonymously. So long as no one knows he is Sherbourne, Shane can avoid all the social responsibilities that come with his position and find the solitude he craves. Shane travels to Ireland dressed as a servant with a letter from "Sherbourne" informing his agent, Oliver Radnor, that Shane Howard should be treated as an honored guest.

Despite the dark clouds that greet him when he arrives at Canamara, the strong feeling of welcome surprises Shane, the feeling of coming home is very strong. When the dark clouds turn into a torrent of rain, he starts galloping towards the mansion. Not being able to see, he almost runs down a woman wearing a long, dark hood. The woman, Kathleen McNamara, is a tenant of Canamara and she stirs something in Shane that he hasn't felt in a very long time, desire.

When it comes to the sixth Marquess of Sherbourne, Kathleen McNamara has only one feeling and that is absolute hatred. Sherbourne is the devil incarnate and is responsible for murdering her beloved husband. Since the death of her husband, Kathleen has been fighting this devil and his persecution of her people in many ways. Yet, despite her dislike of anything English, Kathleen feels drawn to Shane Howard and his kindness to her four-year-old daughter.

Although the author doesn't specify the year, she does set her tale in Ireland when the Penal Laws were in effect. The Penal Laws were a result of the Jacobite rebellion and were intended to suppress Catholicism. The following are just a few of these infamous laws: Catholics were forbidden the practice of their religion; they were forbidden to enter any profession, nor could they vote. Catholics couldn't own or lease land; they were forbidden to attend schools, set up their own schools, or send their children abroad to be educated. Intermarriage between Protestants and Catholics was forbidden.

Although I enjoyed with this book, I did think the author skirted around the religious issues. You never knew for sure whether Kathleen was Catholic. You did know that she took the Penal Laws seriously. Kathleen and her husband came to Canamara to teach the children. When her husband dies, she not only takes his place as a teacher, she also occasionally dons the role of Captain Starlight -- a name based in reality. In Irish history, there were heroes named Captain Rock, Captain Right and Captain Starlight who defended the landless Irish and the tenant farmers against their oppressive English landlords and agents.

My only other quibble with this book is that I found it hard to believe that Radnor, as Shane's agent, would not know Shane's full name and would not have made the connection to Shane's true identity. Readers also might think it odd that Shane, being half Irish, would be so unfamiliar with the Penal Laws, but I believe that author needed to make Shane a little ignorant in order to make her point about these terribly unjust laws.

Now that I have my quibbles out of the way, let me get to all the reasons I liked this book. First, the Penal Laws do make for a very compelling historical backdrop. You want justice for the people; you want Shane to become enlightened and use his power to right the wrongs being dealt to the people on his estate. Also, I very much liked both the hero and the heroine, both of whom have known love and loss. The author convinced me that they truly love and need one and other.

And, the story line is as smart as it is compelling. There are genuine reasons why Shane cannot reveal his identity to Kathleen. There are genuine reasons why Kathleen cannot totally trust Shane. While in many romances this type of distrust often seems contrived, in Kiss Me Goodnight it does not. The author provides a good deal of intelligent reasoning by both the hero and heroine, which explains why they do what they do. The intelligent story line along with the wonderful characters and the compelling historical backdrop are the ingredients that make Kiss Me Goodnight four-heart fare.

--Judith Flavell


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