Miraculously spared from death, Malcolm Sinclair erases the notorious man he once was. Reinventing himself as Thomas Glendower, he strives to make amends for his past, yet he never imagines penance might come via a secretive lady he discovers living in his secluded manor.
Rose has a plausible explanation for why she and her children are residing in Thomas’s house, but she quickly realizes he’s far too intelligent to fool. Revealing the truth is impossibly dangerous, yet day by day he wins her trust, and then her heart.
But then her enemy closes in, and Rose turns to Thomas as the only man who can protect her and the children. And when she asks for his help, Thomas finally understands his true purpose, and with unwavering commitment, he seeks his redemption the only way he can—through living the reality of loving Rose.
I’m going to admit right off the bat that I’ve only read a couple of books by Ms Laurens, and that the last one I read was such a disappointment that I’ve not read her since. Her writing style is too flowery and repetitive for my taste, and I found the characterisation severely lacking. That said, she’s an incredibly popular author and there is obviously a reason for that, so just because those books didn’t work for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for others. Having heard that her series of Barnaby Adair mysteries were a little different from her usual fayre, when this book came up for review, I thought I’d give her another chance.
The story revolves around a character who appeared as a villain in some of the author’s other books, one Malcolm Sinclair, a man with no moral compass whose selfish actions have either directly or indirectly caused much misery and hardship to others. I haven’t read any of those books, but sufficient information is given at the outset to set the scene. At the beginning of this book, a severely injured man is washed up on the seashore close to a monastery, and gives his name as Thomas Glendower before the monks convey him to their infirmary. He spends five years there altogether – the first couple recovering from his injuries and convalescing, the remaining three because he wants to be there, and because he’s trying to work out exactly what he’s going to do with his second chance at life. During his time at the monastery, he takes over the management of their funds, and because of his talent for knowing which investments will be the most profitable, he increases their income significantly while setting up and endowing numerous charitable organisations. He wants desperately to atone for his murky past, and – in financial terms, anyway – does so admirably.
But he is still without a purpose in life, and eventually realises that he needs to go out to seek it, rather than to wait for it to find him, and heads off to Breage Manor in Cornwall, a property he purchased some time ago, and which his solicitor has ensured has been maintained over the years.
Upon arrival, he is surprised to find that the elderly couple he had previously employed as housekeepers are no longer there, and in their place is a much younger (and attractive) woman with two children. She explains that she had originally been taken on in order to help the previous incumbents, and when the task of looking after the house had become too onerous for them, they had retired and left her to run it. (Which she does surprisingly well, considering there is no other staff for such a large house!)
Thomas and Rose are attracted to each other, and while he senses that she is not what she seems – for one thing, she’s obviously from a well-to-do family – he doesn’t push her to tell him more than she is comfortable with. As their relationship develops, they form a strong bond of trust which allows both of them to divulge the information about their pasts – and Thomas determines to keep Rose and the children safe, no matter what.
As this is a mystery, I’m not going to say any more about the plot. It’s well-done, there’s a nice twist towards the end; most importantly, the writing doesn’t suffer so badly from the same problems as I found in the more romantic aspects of the story. The opening chapters which deal with Thomas’ life with the monks and his initial meetings with Rose are very readable and kept me turning the pages, but the romance – such as it is – is poorly developed and the characterisation fairly thin.
Not having read any of the books which featured Malcolm/Thomas before, I couldn’t make any judgments as to the nature of his past deeds and personality. If you have read those books, then you may well feel rather less at sea than I did. I understand that he had expected to die (in fact, had arranged his own death) and now wants to grasp his second chance with both hands and do something good with it – but he still seems too saintly, and more as though he’s had a complete personality transplant rather than being someone who’s reformed and is perhaps struggling with some aspects of that reformation.
Unfortunately, Rose is bland and uninteresting. She’s supposed to be resourceful, but her being able to keep the children hidden for the past five years has been more due to luck than any resourcefulness on her part. And the romance… well, to be honest, the book would have worked better without it. I liked the trust that built up between Thomas and Rose, but the sex scenes are just unreadable. In fact, once I’d reminded myself of why I hadn’t liked them in the last book I read by this author, I skim-read them. Half the time I had no idea what the characters were doing – one of my Goodreads updates says:
“Spiralling… sweeping… fracturing … fusing… Either the H/h just had sex or a day out at the local metalworks. I’m not completely sure.”
It’s not that I want “put tab B into slot A” sex scenes, but the language here is ridiculously overblown and so full of unnecessary imagery that I just couldn’t bear it. What I did want (and didn’t get) was a well-developed romance – I’d have been happy with no bedroom scenes at all if I’d felt any spark between the protagonists.
Another language-based issue is Ms Laurens’ habit of repetition; she makes a point and then proceeds to re-inforce it using a sledgehammer:
”Living the rest of his life with her, growing old with her – having children with her – was not his most yearned-for dream.
A dream he was certain he would not live to make real. Would not, one way or another, be allowed to commit to.”
I marked up a number of similar instances on my Kindle, but that was where my finger stopped in the list!
When it comes down to it, my first thoughts on finishing the book were that it worked much better as a mystery than a romance. I’m sure Ms Laurens’ many fans will read and enjoy this, but she’s clearly not for me. I’m giving this a C based on the fact that the mystery worked quite well; had it been “just” a romance, I’d have given it a much lower grade.