The Arrangement

The Deception

The Gamble

Golden Girl

The Guardian

No Dark Place

The Pretenders

Royal Bride

Someday Soon

 
Silverbridge by Joan Wolf
(Warner, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-446-61042-9
***
Tracy Collins is an American movie star. Married to her childhood sweetheart at twenty and widowed soon after, she has devoted her energies to her career. Most of her films have been romantic comedies. In order to avoid typecasting and to stretch her artistic limits, she has come to England to play the female lead in a Regency-era drama opposite the distinguished Shakespearean actor Jon Melbourne.

The movie’s location scenes will be filmed at Silverbridge, the vast estate of the earls of Silverbridge. The present earl is Harry Oliver; he resides at Silverbridge with his teenaged sister Lady Margaret, who suffers from anorexia. Being an English lord just ain’t what it used to be. Crippled by the death duties following the death of his father, Harry struggles with ever-constant financial difficulties. A real estate mogul wishes to buy thousands of acres of Silverbridge to build a golf course and luxury resort, but Harry is adamantly opposed to selling any of the estate. .

From her first glimpse of Silverbridge, Tracy begins suffering mysterious episodes of déjà vu. She cannot understand these feelings or her immediate powerful response to Harry. When the inn where Tracy and other members of the film crew are staying burns down, arrangements are made for Tracy and Jon to stay at Silverbridge. Soon afterwards, Tracy begins seeing ghostly scenes from the early nineteenth century. Charles, the earl during the period of the film, bears a close resemblance to Harry. Isabel, his children’s governess, similarly resembles Tracy. Charles and Isabel are in love, but his marriage to Caroline is an obstacle to their happiness.

Tracy is very attracted to Harry, and he seems to share her feelings. Tracy, however, is a public figure with instant recognition whenever she’s in public, and a dogged photographer stalks her every move. Harry was embarrassed at the notoriety caused by the drug overdose death of a previous girlfriend and wishes to maintain a low profile.

The stables at Silverbridge burn down as a result of what appears to be arson. Closely following are other incidents. It becomes clear that someone is trying to kill Harry. As she worries about Harry, Tracy cannot help wondering if the past and the present are somehow intertwined.

As a long-time Joan Wolf fan, I have followed her from contemporaries to Regencies (which nearly two decades later are still among the very best in the subgenre) to post-Roman England to prehistory to medieval England to Regency-era England and now back to the contemporary period. Most of her books are keepers and have found a permanent home in my ever-expanding keeper collection. But with its unusual mix of contemporary romance/suspense/paranormal/time-travel, Silverbridge lacks a strong focus.

Harry is a typical Wolf hero: honorable, thoughtful, devoted to family, imbued with a strong sense of duty. I’ve always loved the author’s heroes because they’re men who think with more than their testosterone and who are actually likeable if a little too good to be true.

Tracy, however, is less well developed. She’s beautiful; she’s famous, she’s rich; she’s kind to underlings; she doesn’t fool around. This isn’t enough to make a dynamic character, and with the exception of one scene where she loses her temper at a co-star who’s keeping the cast and crew waiting while she dallies with a caterer, she never really comes alive. She seems to lack the depth necessary to be a good match for him. I couldn’t help wondering if Harry was attracted to her for herself or because his genetic destiny decreed that he would be drawn to Isabel’s contemporary rendition.

On a technical note, I must comment on the aristocratic titles and forms of address in the book. Lately, there has been a succession of romances where the authors and editors seem to have no knowledge of proper usage. Ms. Wolf gets them right! At one point in Silverbridge, Harry’s brother Tony explains to Tracy why he is plain Mr. Oliver, not a lord, while his sister is Lady Margaret. Perhaps Joan Wolf novels should be required reading for authors who feel compelled to endow their characters with titles.

Silverbridge is an acceptable book, but to my regret it doesn’t rise above that level. It kept my interest, but I had no difficulty putting it down when life intruded. For me, a prime requisite for a recommended book is that it grabs me and won’t let go until the end.

--Lesley Dunlap


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