Dear Ms. Thomas:
This is the second book of yours that I have read. The first, Must Have Been The Moonlight, was enjoyable for me, not only because of the Egyptian setting, but also because I have a certain weakness for the jaded hero and idealistic heroine pairing. Your newest Romance, Sin and Scandal in England, shares some qualities with the first, especially in the characterizations of the protagonists and an above average suspense subplot. And while I wished there was more this time around to surprise and enchant me, Sin and Scandal in England ended up a reasonably entertaining read for me.
When Bethany Munro sees Ian Rockwell for the first time in three years, she knows that she will never put him completely from her mind. Although I did not read Wild and Wicked in Scotland, apparently Bethany and Ian had some sort of connection in that book, and it left quite an impression on both of them. Unbeknownst to Ian, Bethany is attending the influential Lord Whitley’s house party in order to discover what happened to her mentor, a female science teacher at the conservatory where Bethany teaches who disappeared after attending an event at Whitley’s estate. Unbeknownst to Bethany, Ian is investigating Whitley for anarchist activities. And unbeknownst to either of them, danger from Ian’s past imperils both him and Bethany.
Frankly I was surprised at how engaged the suspense plot kept me. So often in Romance these types of plots seem nothing more than window dressing or a thin excuse to bond the characters romantically, but in Sin and Scandal in England, the suspense aspects of the book were strong and central to the relationship between Ian and Bethany. The mere fact of their mutual attraction places them both in danger, and their growing intimacy brings clarity to some mysteries while amplifying others – for them and us. We learn, for example, that Ian and Bethany’s interests and investigations overlap, but neither they nor we know how or why. Bethany knows that Ian’s hesitation in acting on their attraction is related to some secret he harbors, but she doesn’t know how it might affect her. Likewise, Ian believes that he can keep Bethany safe by staying away from her, but he is not fully aware of how involved she already is in his own investigation. Consequently, circumstances continue to place Bethany and Ian in each other’s path, and it is only through their growing bond that several mysteries can be resolved.
One of the things I liked most about the suspense plot here was that neither Bethany nor Ian is a super human super spy. Bethany is young and impulsive, and while she is very smart, she does not have enough information to make fully informed decisions. Ian, on the other hand, has the experience and wisdom that Bethany lacks, but his own past had jaded him to the point where he underestimates Bethany’s abilities and lacks the knowledge to keep her perfectly safe. There are times when they are both in real danger and must rely on a certain amount of luck to supplement their intelligence and skill set.
As for the romance between Ian and Bethany, it is saved from being thoroughly clichÃƒÆ’Ã‚ ©d by the relationship they forge around the mystery each seeks to solve. At 31, Ian is the typical noble but worn older man to Bethany’s 20-year old idealism. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, Ian is thawed by Bethany’s passion but afraid to invite her fully into his heart and life. Bethany loves Ian virtually from the beginning, but she tries to remain strong and removed from her yearning for his heart. Although both are likeable, neither shine, and in fact, the emotional dynamics of the relationship are sometimes over-described to the edge of melodrama:
He did not understand what it was he felt for her or what it was she felt for him. Love was too vague, too opportune a word, too convenient and overused by poets and white knights. She most certainly saw him as part of a world painted in vivid colors when he saw only shades of gray.
At other points, though, I thought the writing was sharp and effective:
“What is it you want from me, Bethany.”
. . . The question lingered in her thoughts. “You have always made me curious about that which I do not understand, Ian.”
“Then it is your desire to pin my wings on cork and dissect me?”
She laughed at his outrageousness. “It is my desire that you pin my wings on cork and dissect me, Sir Ian.”
There were enough awkward phrases and typographical errors to periodically disrupt my enjoyment of the romance and the book as a whole, and I did something with this book I have never done before. In the middle of reading the ARC I actually went to Fictionwise and purchased the ebook, thinking that perhaps the text was changed before the book went to press. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and I found myself trying to ignore mistakes like the use of loose when lose was intended and the appearance of seclusive (I actually had to look that one up!) when secluded fit the meaning of the sentence. I think this book would have benefited substantially from one more pass at proofreading and editing.
There are a number of secondary characters, and while I was following along as I read, not long after I finished the book I couldn’t really picture most of them in my mind. This lack of vividness may account for some confusion I have over Bethany’s family situation. At one point she describes her upbringing as nearly that of an orphan, but later on she goes to spend time with her family, and I would have liked to understand better who was who in Bethany’s past, especially since she seemed to gain some of her sneakier skills (e.g. lock picking and safe cracking). Similarly, I would have appreciated a stronger sense of place; sure it’s England, but as Ian and Bethany moved from location to location what I remember most vividly is that it was always storming.
As much as I felt that some elements of this novel were ordinary, I really did enjoy the suspense plot, and the romance, while not exceptional for me, was strongly connected to the suspense and picked up on some of the momentum from that subplot. Because of that, and because I found the suspense plot more credible than I do in a lot of Romance, I am torn as to whether to give this book a B- or a C+, and instead of trying to make that decision, I think I’m going to let readers decide for themselves how far above average Sin and Scandal in England rises.