Sweet Enemy (Veiled Seduction #1) by Heather Snow (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Marcin

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Beakers and ball gowns don’t mix. So when lady chemist and avowed spinster Miss Liliana Claremont receives a coveted invitation to the earl of Stratford’s house party, no one expects her to accept. After all, it’s well known Lord Geoffrey Wentworth, a rising political star, is in need of a suitable bride, and it’s assumed he will choose one from the select group of attendees.

Yet Liliana has no desire to lure the rich and powerful earl into marriage. She’s come to Somerton Park for one reason – to uncover what the Wentworths had to do with the murder of her father. She intends to find justice, even if she has to ruin Stratford to do it.

To get the evidence she needs, Liliana intends to keep her enemy close, though romance is not part of her formula. But it only takes one kiss to start a reaction she can’t control…

Rating: Narration – C- : Content – C+

Heather Snow’s début novel, Sweet Enemy, was originally published in 2012 and is the first in her Veiled Seduction trilogy of historical romances featuring smart, scientifically minded heroines. I remember reading and very much enjoying the third book, Sweet Madness, but I haven’t managed to get around to reading the other two books, so I was delighted when Sweet Enemy popped up at Audible and immediately requested a review copy.

Liliana Claremont has lived alone since the death of her father and has devoted herself to scientific pursuits, mostly her overriding interest in chemistry and how it can be applied to healing. She’s dedicated, intelligent and continually frustrated at not being taken seriously by the scientific institutions of the day which are, of course, only open to men. Returning to her home following yet another rejection, she discovers it has been ransacked – and worse than that, the intruder is still there. She manages to escape unharmed and is gradually setting things back to rights when she finds a secret compartment she’s never seen before, and inside it, a large bundle of letters. When she finds one dated two days before her father’s death, something within it kick-starts her memories of that day and of his final words to her – and she realises that his death had been no accident.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Advertisements

Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lord Thornby has been trapped on his father’s isolated Yorkshire estate for a year. There are no bars or chains; he simply can’t leave. His sanity is starting to fray. When industrial magician John Blake arrives to investigate a case of witchcraft, he finds the peculiar, arrogant Thornby as alarming as he is attractive. John soon finds himself caught up in a dark fairytale, where all the rules of magic—and love—are changed.

To set Thornby free, both men must face life-changing truths—and John must accept that the brave, witty man who’s winning his heart may also be about to break it. Can they escape a web of magic that’s as perilous as love?

Rating: A-

First of all – don’t let that horrible cover put you off!

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is a very impressive almost-début novel from Lee Welch – I say ‘almost’, because the author has previously published a novella – and I devoured it in two sittings.  I’m not widely-read in the fantasy genre, but the premise seemed quite unique, the world-building – in terms of the rules governing the use of magic – is well-thought out and explained, and the two central characters are engaging and strongly defined.

Soren Dezombrey, Lord Thornby, lives a life devoted to pleasure in London, as is usual for many heirs-in-waiting.  He is estranged from his father, the Marquess of Dalton, whom he hasn’t seen for twenty years, so is naturally surprised when the marquess visits him in town and insists that Soren returns to the family’s Yorkshire estate of Raskelf Hall so that he can marry one of two heiresses selected for him.  In fact, the marquess does more than insist; his servants overpower Soren and force him into the carriage, and Soren is now a prisoner in his own home.  For the past eighteen months, he’s been at Raskelf – and he can’t leave.  Literally.  He isn’t bound or locked in; he can go wherever he pleases within the estate boundary, but whenever he gets close to it, he starts to panic, think the nineteenth century equivalent of “damn, I’ve left the oven on!” and immediately turns back and returns to the hall.

John Blake is a down-to-earth industrial magician, an exponent of inanimate magic, which is regarded in magical circles as lesser, more common magic than that practiced by Theurgists, who summon demons to do their magic for them and so don’t get their hands dirty.  His normal line of work is in factories and other industrial buildings, where he is employed to ward against things like fires, injuries or accidents, so the request to visit the home of a nobleman is a very unusual one.  But a friend – who happens to be Lady Dalton’s cousin – tells him that the lady is terrified that her stepson is using magic with intent to harm her, and he asks John to visit Raskelf as a favour.  John reluctantly agrees to go, and immediately senses that there’s something not right.  The house is literally drenched In ancient magic, curses and things John doesn’t understand, and even odder is the fact that Thornby seems to be completely immune to his magic.  John’s curiosity is aroused – as are other things, because Thornby, while the epitome of the arrogant, disdainful nobleman, is quite the most beautiful man John has ever seen.

At first, what he sees would seem to support the idea that Thornby is indeed a malevolent force within the household, and he takes little heed of the latter’s insistence that he holds no ill-will towards Lady Dalton and that he is unable to leave the estate.  It’s only when he witnesses first-hand – by marching Thornby forcibly across the estate boundary – the other man’s struggles to return and then watches as horrible wounds appear on his face that he at last comes to realise that there’s something truly sinister at work at Raskelf and to believe that Thornby is an unwitting pawn in a dangerous game… but what exactly is going on and who is pulling the strings?

Lee Welch has created an original, riveting magical fantasy in Salt Magic, Skin Magic, which combines an intriguing, tightly-constructed and high-stakes plot laden with mysticism, magic and suspense with a warm, tender romance between two men at opposite ends of the social spectrum who should, by rights, never have met.  The chemistry between Soren and John is intense right from the start, although neither is happy about the degree to which they’re drawn to the other man; and I loved the evolution of their relationship as it progressed from antagonism and suspicion to trust, affection and soul-deep belief in each other. Their interactions are flirty, funny and tender, and the romance develops in a wholly believable, organic way.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic is unquestionably one of the most original, compelling books I’ve read this year, and I’m eager to see what Ms. Welch comes up with next.

A Marriage Made in Scandal (Rescued from Ruin #9) by Elisa Braden

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Wanted: A countess for the most feared lord in London
With a family legacy tainted by murder and madness, Phineas Brand, the Earl of Holstoke, is having a devil of a time securing a proper wife—or even an improper one. Society misses faint at the sight of him. Matchmaking mamas scurry to avoid him. Only one woman is bold enough to keep drawing near, and she’s more scandalous than he is.

Caution: A lady’s brazen ways may lead to ruin
Lady Eugenia Huxley knows all about running aground in the marriage mart, thanks to a scandal involving a footman and too much drink. No matter. She’ll gladly pursue millinery over matrimony. But when her sister’s spurned suitor returns to London in search of a wife, she can’t resist offering him a bit of courtship advice, even if the chilly, brilliant, honorable Lord Holstoke does give her shivers—heated, head-to-toe shivers that are anything but fearful.

Danger: This match may be combustible
After a series of vicious murders brings suspicion to Holstoke’s door, Eugenia risks everything to be his alibi. The only rational remedy is to marry the minx before she generates another scandal. Yet, the dangers don’t end at the altar. A poisonous enemy coils ever closer, threatening the woman who awakens his soul. How far will he go to protect her? That may be the greatest danger of all.

Rating: C+

This ninth book in Elisa Braden’s Rescued from Ruin takes place around six years after book seven, (Confessions of a Dangerous Lord), and revisits the members of the Huxley family.  A number of events that took place in that book are referenced here – principally the crimes committed by the hero’s mother and the resultant fallout – so this probably isn’t the ideal book to pick up if you haven’t read any of the other books in the series. A Marriage Made in Scandal is a very readable novel that combines a friends-to-lovers romance with an intriguing mystery, but even though I liked quite a few things about it, there are things I didn’t that prevent me from recommending it.

One of those things is the way the story opens.  Lady Eugenia Huxley is the daughter of an earl, but when we first encounter her she is working in a far from exclusive hat shop in one of the less salubrious areas of London.  Anyone who reads historicals regularly will immediately recognise the incongruity of the idea of an earl’s daughter working for a living.  As I read on I learned that a couple of years previously Eugenia – Genie – had caused a massive scandal by being caught in flagrante delicto with a footman and so I thought, “okay, so she disgraced herself and her family threw her out.  That makes more sense.”  Except – no.  Not only did her family not disown her, she still lives at the family home in Mayfair!  It’s said early on that Genie’s disgrace has naturally affected her younger sister’s marital prospects, that Genie no longer goes out in society and that she is still whispered about – but she lives at home?  And goes to work every day?  I didn’t buy it.  There are occasions when I can roll my eyes at a set up and move on, but not this time.  Ms. Braden is a good writer and I’m sure she could have come up with another way to have Genie be the family scandal without resorting to something so implausible.

Anyway.  While working in said downmarket hat shop, Genie runs in to Phineas Brand, Lord Holstoke, who, years earlier, had been courting her sister Maureen.  Phineas is a rigidly controlled young man whose mother (this isn’t a spoiler, as it happened in a previous book) was revealed to have been a murderess, having killed Phineas’ father and numerous others.  That was six years ago, and society still views Phineas with caution, which is making his search for a suitable bride difficult, to say the least.  And it’s made even more difficult when a young woman is murdered – poisoned using methods and poisons known to have been favoured by Phineas’ mother – and several more killings ensue in quick succession.  It seems someone is out to implicate Phineas in the murders, and when Genie impulsively steps in to provide him with an alibi, it’s the last straw for her father, who makes it clear he expects Phineas to marry her.  And in the meantime, the murder sub-plot picks up steam. The deaths seem random and there’s no way of knowing how, where or whom the poisoner will strike next, and Phineas greatly fears that by marrying Genie, he has placed her firmly in the killer’s sights.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Kill Game (Seven of Spades #1) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Homicide detective Levi Abrams is barely holding his life together. He’s reeling from the fallout of a fatal shooting, and his relationship with his boyfriend is crumbling. The last thing he’s prepared for is a serial killer stalking the streets of Las Vegas. Or how he keeps getting thrown into the path of annoyingly charming bounty hunter Dominic Russo.

Dominic likes his life free of complications. That means no tangling with cops — especially prickly, uptight detectives. But when he stumbles across one of the Seven of Spades’s horrifying crime scenes, he can’t let go, despite Levi’s warnings to stay away.

The Seven of Spades is ruthless and always two moves ahead. Worst of all, they’ve taken a dangerously personal interest in Levi and Dominic. Forced to trust each other, the two men race to discover the killer’s identity, revealing hidden truths along the way and sparking a bond neither man expected. But that may not be enough to protect them.

This killer likes to play games, and the deck is not stacked in Levi and Dominic’s favor.

Rating: A-

Well. It’s not often I finish a book and find I’ve been holding my breath as I neared the end, but Kill Game was one of those books.

First in Cordelia Kingsbridge’s Seven of Spades series, Kill Game jumps right into the action as we meet Detective Levi Abrams of the Las Vegas PD and his partner, Martine Valcourt, at a murder scene.  Philip Dreyer, a wealthy investment/wealth management advisor has been killed at his desk; there’s no sign of a struggle, his throat has been slit and a playing card – the seven of spades – is tucked into his jacket pocket.  This is the second victim to have been killed in this manner, with a  seven of spades card found on the body; Levi and Martine are pretty sure they have a serial killer on their hands.

Bounty Hunter – Bail Enforcement Agent – Dominic Russo becomes inadvertently involved in the case when one of the people he’s been hired to bring in turns out to be the killer’s next victim.  Levi and Dominic have run into each other a few times; Levi is usually pretty off-hand with Dominic, seeing him as a nuisance and someone who just gets in the way of the police doing their job.  He brushes Dominic off, but Dominic can’t let it go, especially after he finds a seven of spades card stuck under one of the wipers on the windscreen of his car.

Ms. Kingsbridge has created a deliciously taught thriller and two very appealing, charismatic protagonists in Kill Game, and I’m going to be jumping straight into the next book, Trick Roller as soon as I’ve finished typing! Levi is elegant and smoothly controlled on the surface, but a seething mass of anger on the inside; he has recently been involved in an OIS (Officer Involved Shooting) wherein he killed a man who was using a child as a hostage and keeps putting off his counselling sessions, and he’s also having issues with his long-term boyfriend, who wants to get married and settle down, and who is keen to persuade Levi into a change of career.  Dominic is an imposing, six-four, muscle-bound ex-army ranger with a serious gambling addiction (so yes, perhaps Las Vegas isn’t the best place for him, but he’s got good reasons for remaining there) who fights that addiction every day.  He works at a local LGBT club as a barman in the evenings as well as having a day job, and his ‘romantic’ life consists mostly of one-night hook-ups, and he’s content with that.  Until he realises that, at thirty-one, hooking up with guys in their early twenties is …well, a bit sad, and that maybe it’s time to start thinking about his future.

This is a series in which there’s an overarching plot running through all five books, so they have to be read in order – which will be no hardship if they’re all as good as this one.  The mysterious killer is cool, disciplined and clever, with reasoning that is almost sympathetic – in a twisted kind of way – and really knows what buttons to push.  And to make the stakes even higher and more personal, for some reason, they’ve latched on to Levi – he’s the one they call, he’s the one they seem to be prepared to go to any lengths to protect and even help; this is no opportunist and it’s clear that whoever it is is going to lead our heroes a very merry dance before all’s said and done.

Kill Game is an extremely well-done and compelling procedural with just a whiff of romance and a truckload of sexual chemistry between two attractive but deeply flawed principals.  Neither Levi nor Dominic is in the right place to embark on a new relationship, and I appreciated that they both recognised that and were in agreement about the need to take things slowly. (Well, mostly 😉 )

If you enjoy tightly-plotted procedurals/romantic suspense novels then I’d definitely recommend Kill Game with one proviso – be prepared to need to gobble up all the books in quick succession.  At time of writing, book four is imminent, with book five due in December.

The Fire Court (Marwood and Lovett #2) by Andrew Taylor

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Somewhere in the soot-stained ruins of Restoration London, a killer has gone to ground…

The Great Fire has ravaged London, wreaking destruction and devastation wherever its flames spread. Now, guided by the incorruptible Fire Court, the city is slowly rebuilding, but times are volatile and danger is only ever a heartbeat away.

James Marwood, son of a traitor, is thrust into this treacherous environment when his ailing father claims to have stumbled upon a murdered woman in the very place where the Fire Court sits. Then his father is run down and killed. Accident? Or another murder…?

Determined to uncover the truth, Marwood turns to the one person he can trust – Cat Lovett, the daughter of a despised regicide. Marwood has helped her in the past. Now it’s her turn to help him. But then comes a third death… and Marwood and Cat are forced to confront a vicious and increasingly desperate killer whose actions threaten the future of the city itself.

Rating: B+

The Fire Court is the sequel to Andrew Taylor’s The Ashes of London, an historical mystery that opened dramatically during the Great Fire of London and then proceeded to unravel a tale of murder and betrayal stretching back decades, to the reign of Cromwell and Charles I.  This novel reunites the protagonists of the earlier book – James Marwood and Cat Lovett – as they become entangled in the complicated business of the Fire Court, a body set up to oversee and settle any disputes that arise as a result of the rebuilding of the city after the fire.  With so many buildings damaged or destroyed, Parliament is eager to rebuild as soon as possible, and the Fire Court is charged with helping that along by settling legal disputes about leases, land boundaries and other matters pertaining to property ownership.  With greed and corruption snaking through the business of the court, the stakes are high for many – and for some, are high enough to commit murder.

Seven months after the events of the previous book, James Marwood is comfortably settled and is prospering financially in his posts as clerk to Joseph Williamson (Under-Secretary of State to Lord Arlington) and clerk to the Board of Red Cloth, a department attached closely to the king’s household.  He is still caring for his elderly, mentally unstable father, but early in the story, Mr. Marwood senior dies in an accident leaving his son with little other than some confused ramblings about his mother, the rookeries and a woman decked out like a cheap whore in a yellow dress.

Cat Lovett, who ran from her well-to-do family in order to avoid marriage to her smarmy cousin (who raped her) is still in hiding and has adopted the name and persona of Jane Hakesby, cousin and servant to Simon Hakesby, a well-respected architect.  Cat is a talented draughtsman herself, although as a woman, the profession is barred to her, but Hakesby – who is not in the best of health – allows her to assist him on occasion and to make her own designs under his auspices.  At the beginning of the novel, she is attending the proceedings of the Fire Court, partly to take notes (and to practice her newly learned shorthand) and partly to attend her master, who is there to watch out for the interests of one of that day’s petitioners.

Marwood and Cat have not encountered each other in the intervening months and don’t expect to do so, as they move in very different circles.  But they are drawn together again after Williamson instructs Marwood to accompany him to view the body of a woman found dead in the ruins of what seems to have been the cellar of a house.  The woman’s garish clothing suggests she may have been a whore, but that isn’t the case; she’s identified as a wealthy widow, which explains the government’s interest in the woman’s fate.  Charged with finding out as much as he can about the murder, Marwood is suddenly reminded of his late father’s last ramblings – which it seems may not have been ramblings at all.  But while Williamson wants answers, Chiffinch, Keeper of the King’s Private Closet (and Marwood’s other employer) wants things left alone; but Marwood is already too involved to stop looking for answers – which come at a very high personal cost.

As in the previous book, Marwood’s portions of the tale are told in the first person, while Cat’s are in the third, and I had no problems whatsoever with the juxtaposition of styles.  We find out a little more about both characters here, as they do about each other; in The Ashes of London, they encountered each other only briefly although their stories intersected frequently, and in the dramatic climax of the story, Marwood saved Cat’s life. It’s this that prompts her to go against Hakesby’s wishes when Marwood asks for her help, and leads to her being drawn into intrigue and danger as she, too, becomes involved in the investigation into the murder.

My one criticism about The Ashes of London was that I didn’t quite feel as though I got to know either Cat or Marwood, but here, they’re starting to feel more fleshed out.  Marwood is a pleasant young man who just wants to live a comfortable, quiet life as he tries to live down his father’s reputation as a radical and former Fifth Monarchist. I sympathised with his conflicting feelings for his difficult, sometimes demanding father,  and with the dilemma of his divided loyalties and the need to make a choice between his two employers.  Cat continues to be prickly and defensive, but her position is a precarious one; she cannot risk being found by her family or she will be forced into an unwanted marriage.  She’s observant and sharp-tongued, brave and loyal, and I was pleased to see the slowly developing trust between her and Marwood.

Although I found the book a little slow to start, I was hooked within a few short chapters and eager to see where things were going.   Mr. Taylor’s research is impeccable and has clearly been extensive; his descriptions of post-Fire London are incredibly evocative, and he paints a wonderfully vivid picture of a city in a state of flux, where poverty is rife and life is a daily struggle for many.  It’s not essential to have read The Ashes of London in order to enjoy and understand this novel, although I’d recommend it in order to gain a fuller appreciation of the historical context and of the evolution of the relationship between Cat and Marwood.  The Fire Court is a complex, absorbing read, full of political and legal intrigue, high-stakes situations for our two protagonists, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fans of intricate, well-written historical mysteries will find much to enjoy, and I’m eager to see what’s in store for Marwood and Lovett in the next book in the series.

 

Damage Control (Laws of Attraction #1) by Kate McMurray

Senate candidate Parker Livingston chose his political dreams over a future with the man he loved. He lives with constant regret about not having Jackson Kane in his life. Or his bed. And when a strange woman is found murdered in Parker’s apartment, Jackson is the only person Parker trusts to help clear his name.

Jackson never forgave Parker for the way their relationship ended. He moved on, built a name for himself as a criminal defense attorney and swore he’d never let heartbreak back in. But when Parker shows up on his doorstep, wild-eyed and handsome and desperate for his help, Jackson can’t say no. Parker is a lot of things, but he’s no murderer.

Forced back together, searching for answers, their attraction returns with a vengeance. Any distraction—personal or professional—could be deadly. The murderer is still at large, and he’s made it clear one of them is his next victim.

Rating: C-

Damage Control is the first book in the author’s Laws of Attraction series, and it opens when top defence attorney Jackson Kane is approached by senatorial candidate Parker Livingston to represent him when, as looks likely to happen, Livingston is arrested for the murder of a woman found dead in his apartment.  The book is a reasonably well written and engaging tale, but there were a number of issues that kept pulling me out of the story, and there were times when the suspension of disbelief required was just too large for comfort.

Jackson and Parker – Park – have history.  They met at college, aged nineteen, and were each other’s first everything; they stayed together for eight years until Park’s political ambitions (and daddy issues) forced them apart.  Eight years later, Park is running for the senate… as a Republican.  Okay – I’m British, so it’s entirely possible that some of the finer political points in the story passed me by, but basically, Park is a left-of-centre Republican who espouses many of the party’s conservative economic tenets while also believing it has gone off the rails and that change can only be effected from within.  But the party and voters will never accept a gay republican, so he’s firmly closeted.  Even though it’s a matter of record – and it comes up a few times – that Park and Jackson shared a couple of addresses over the years, we’re asked to believe that nobody, at any time during the vetting process put two and two together and made four? They were together as a couple for EIGHT YEARS.  They didn’t ever have friends round for dinner?  They never went out as a couple?  Setting aside the fact I have a hard time believing that ANYONE would want to identify as a Republican these days, surely someone running for high political office would have been thoroughly investigated?

Anyway.  It seems the murdered woman was a socialite whose father is a major donor to the party and Park’s campaign.  Fortunately, however, Park has a watertight alibi for the time of the murder, and once that is established,  the story turns its attention to trying to find out why the victim was at Park’s apartment in the first place? Did his political opponents lure her there with the intention of framing Park for murder?

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

TBR Challenge: The Tyburn Waltz by Maggie MacKeever

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Julie expects she will end up dangling on Tyburn gallows,hanged as a thief.

Ned expects he will die on the battlefields of the Peninsula, hanged as a spy.

But then Julie takes on the trappings of a lady, and Ned unexpectedly becomes an earl, both players in a deadly game that will take them from the heights of London society to the depths of the Regency underworld — a game in which not only necks are risked, but hearts as well.

Rating: B

Finding a book in a series to read for this month’s prompt proved a bit harder than I’d anticipated.  Oh, I’ve got plenty of series books, but I realised that most were in series I’d either completed or not started yet, so my option was pretty much limited to picking up the first in a series.  I was going back and forth on my Kindle trying to work out what I fancied reading and actually started one or two other books before finally settling on Maggie MacKeever’s The Tyburn Waltz.  Ms. MacKeever has a fairly large backlist of traditional regencies, but this book – the first in her Tyburn Trilogy (which has yet to be completed) – dates from 2010 and is a little bit sexier and somewhat darker than her trads.

When she’s just fourteen – as near as she can guess, anyway – street urchin Jules is caught stealing some silver teaspoons, imprisoned in Newgate and will most likely hang for the crime.  But she’s offered a deal; release in exchange for working for the infamous Cap’n Jack – the mysterious, seemingly omnipotent lord of London’s criminal underworld.  It’s Hobson’s Choice; Jules agrees, and for the next four years, she lives comfortably, and is given lessons in refinement and deportment so that she can move easily among the upper classes.

Ned Fairchild, Earl of Dorset, is a rather reluctant earl, having come into the title upon the unexpected death of his cousin.  Until then, he’d been an Exploring Officer (a spy of sorts) in Wellington’s army in Spain, a dangerous life, but one he’d relished.  Back in England, he and his closest friend, Kane, Lord Saxe, are still working for the government – but mostly Ned is bored by the round of balls, parties, visits to clubs and his mistress that seem to comprise his life and longs for something more.

He returns home late one night to find his fifteen-year-old sister, Lady Clea, out of bed and waiting for him, proudly showing him what looks to be a young woman wrapped in a curtain and tied to a chair in his library.  Clea explains that she – with the help of his batman, Bates – caught a housebreaker; Ned sends her to bed, intending to find out what he can about the young woman’s intentions, but she’s too quick for him, and knocks him over the head with an ornamental statue before absconding out of the window – with the statue, and without the curtain.

Shortly after this, Jules is manoeuvred into a situation as companion to Lady Georgiana Ashcroft.  As Miss Julie Wynne, she accompanies her mistress to a number of society events, where she’s instructed to steal various items from the hosts. She has no idea to what end, just knows that she’s got to follow Cap’n Jack’s orders quickly and without drawing attention to herself.  She’s engaged in stealing a glove from the bedroom of the wife of the French Ambassador when she’s confronted by the Earl of Dorset who idly wonders if she’s lost something.  She tries to bluff her way out of it, but quickly realises its futile; he’s recognised her and he’s clearly not going to let her get away this time.  She’s worried he’s going to report her to the authorities and is surprised when he doesn’t, instead asking her to meet him again so they can talk further.  Ned quickly realises there’s more going on that meets the eye, and assigns Bates to keep an eye on Julie, to protect her from whomever has her under his control.

The romance between Ned and Julie is a fairly slow-burn, and the author does a great job of building the attraction that thrums between them from their very first meeting. They’re both extremely likeable; Ned is a terrific hero – handsome, clever and compassionate, he’s impressed by Julie’s tenacity and gumption as much as he’s attracted to her and is determined to keep her safe at all costs. Julie has an old head on her young shoulders – not surprising, considering she grew up on the streets – she’s quick-witted and independent, although she’s sensible enough to recognise when she needs help and to ask for it.  Their interactions are lively and entertaining, they have great chemistry and their relationship moves at a good pace, while they’re also trying to work out exactly who Cap’n Jack is and what he’s up to.  The mystery element of the novel is intriguing and unfolds gradually, with the reader finding clues and information at the same time as the characters, which certainly helps to build the suspense.

The story is set against the backdrop of the state visit which doesn’t really have a lot to do with the plot, although it does provide a number of events at which our heroes can interact, and allows the injection of a little light comedy in the forms of Lady Georgiana and Ned’s cousin, the dowager Countess, who are sworn rivals and always trying to score points off each other.  There are some other intriguing secondary characters as well; Ned’s friend Kane is a notorious rake, his sister, Clea is clever, vivacious and has a Latin quote handy for every occasion, and the coolly collected and lovely French spy, Sabine worked with Ned and Kane during the recent war.

After all those positives however, comes the negative; the final quarter of the book doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the rest of it.  The reveal about Cap’n Jack is weak and anti-climactic, and although everything is neatly wrapped up – and it’s not all rainbows and happy bunnies – the book seems to have run out of steam, and the author throws in a couple of plot points (like the one about Ned’s cousin pushing him to get married) which add little (if anything) to the story as a whole.

The Tyburn Waltz is, on the whole, a well-executed, funny and sensual romantic adventure story, and even with the reservations I’ve expressed, I enjoyed it and plan to read the other books in the trilogy.