Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Amanda Quick - 'Til Death Do Us Part

Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.
Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.
But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker... 

Comment: Since I consider myself to be a fan of Amanda Quick, it was not difficult to pick up this book and start reading, especially after it got to be mentioned positively by several other readers. With the good reviews I thought the author had excelled herself in this new book and, in terms of plot, it felt so because of the atmosphere but when it comes to the romance, it was nothing new.

In this story we meet Calista Langley, a resourceful woman ahead of her time, as she has recently arranged for meetings between respectable single people of both sexes so they can mingle and chat without the usual constraints associated with such reunions. For many her salon is nothing more than a brothel arrangement but for many is a way for those who aren't accepted in certain aristocratic settings or who lack the chances to do so, to have a conversation with someone they might have things in common.
Things become a little worrying for her business and annoying for herself after an ex beau tries to get into Calista's graces again despite the way their relationship ended while at the same time someone seems to be leaving funerary mementos for her to find. Coincidentally, one of her new clients is the writer Trent Hastings, famous for his detective novels, and after a disturbing new finding, Calista trusts him with her difficulties and the two embark on a joint adventure....but will be a resolution of the case the only thing to come out of their association?

I saw some positive reviews about this book but I read them quite diagonally fearing something spoilerish might be included. I only knew several readers have liked the book and thought it was a good one from such a prolific author and whose formula for her historicals has proven easy to maintain. 
Having read many of her books too, I kind of knew what to expect: hero and heroine shouldn't have things in common but unite efforts to accomplish some sort of task, perhaps including suspense moments, perhaps not, but always with some mystery on going.

In this book, these ideas have proven to be exactly right and the main structure of the story follows the formula perfectly. Even the way the romance appears obvious but lacking some spontaneity and emotional development doesn't run far from the author's trademark style.
I'd say this is probably the element that can seem under developed and which brings the story down a bit. Although the tone of the story is relatively serious, the way the characters deal with every situation, even the difficult ones, always gives off the vibe of detachment from them which, aligned with the lack of romantic scenes, makes the stories cute and easy to read but not really generous. It's as if the elements are all there but they could be about anyone else.

I don't usually mind the lack of more depth into every detail in this author's stories. The formula works and the expectation of what is certainly to come can be seen as relatively peaceful, as if one knows exactly what one will get. However, time after time, this not only sounds repetitive but lacking originality, because all the female characters follow a pattern and all the male ones too, even if the profession they have or the social status they present differs. This means, the fun part is in the differences, in how the couple ngages one another, their family connections, the little things of their daily life.
This book added a subtle new element and I assume this is why it was well receive, even by lifelong  fans: the Gothic atmosphere seems more obvious because of the death references and dying characters throughout the book. I see the interest and it is refreshing somehow to see the main characters dealing with such a different type of villain from the usual work by mrs Quick. 

However, from the point of view of the romance, this failed to add anything new. In fact, the idea that after a few meetings, share of situations and common interests the characters are perfectly aligned in their wishes is so easy to achieve, I still don't feel convinced they are in love. They could just as easily be good friends but this is a romance, so there we have it. It's not that Calista and Trent don't match in certain areas, they do, but we don't have enough little clues about it and in a plot where they have to follow clues and wait for things and time passes by, that could have been done better.

All in all, though, I liked reading this, pat because I knew what I'd get and part because it did offer a captivating plot and a good enough resolution at the end. I don't think it's the best book by the author though (to me, of course), but it's certainly enjoyable in the genre.
Grade: 7/10

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