Dear Ms. Duran:
When I finished the first book in this series recently, I concluded my review by expressing my concerns about what kind of hero Nick O’Shea would make. In Lady Be Good, he’s the heroine’s uncle, a kingpin of the London underworld who owns a gambling den (don’t they always?). That in itself doesn’t make him villainous per romance rules, but his treatment of the heroine was morally ambiguous, to say the least. He blackmails her for the better part of the book, but even more damning, in my eyes, was his behavior in the prologue.
The heroine of Lady Be Good, Lily, is still a teenager in the prologue of that book, and she works for her uncle as a thief. One night she takes a job in her desperately ill sister’s place, stealing some letters Nick needs. She’s discovered and escapes by the skin of her teeth; when he finds her she is stuck in a tiny space between two buildings, unable to go backward (or be discovered) or forward (because there’s no room). He coaxes her out by reminding her that her sister needs her and finally telling her to dislocate her shoulder to get free. Only when she does so, and he has the document he needs, does he tell her that her sister has actually already died.
I thought that was very cold. It revealed Nick to be manipulative and ruthless, and it bothered me that he was behaving that way towards his own kin – who was little more than a child, to boot. I hoped that in Luck Be a Lady we’d get some insight into Nick’s perspective that would make his behavior seem less abhorrent.
The book starts off with establishing prologues for both Nick and the heroine, Catherine Everleigh. Each does give the reader a sense of how they ended up the way they are: Catherine, the “ice princess” is groomed by her beloved father to take over his auction house, and she lives in fear of disappointing him. Both her parents discourage any hint of childlike behavior, even when Catherine *is* a child of seven. Catherine longs for a friend her age, but she longs even more to please her father.
Nick is poor boy living in the slums with his mother and venturing out every day to the docks, hoping to get picked up for back-breaking labor that will keep a roof over their heads for another month. When he finds that his mother is pregnant by their hated landlord, his life takes a turn for the worse.
As adults, Nick and Catherine became acquainted during the events of Lady Be Good, and it’s clear that they are intrigued by each other right away (though the proper Catherine is of course mortified by the very idea of any connection to a flashy criminal such as Nick). Catherine has big problems courtesy of her older brother Peter. He’s embezzling from the auction house, which he cares nothing about; Peter’s after a political career. He’s also now threatening to sell the business, and Catherine can’t stop him unless she’s married (marriage will give her half-control of the auction house, under the terms of her father’s will).
Nick is also having some problems with a local functionary who is encroaching into his territory and having buildings that he owns improperly condemned, displacing the residents (this is the first sign of Nick’s reformation; he’s concerned not just about someone muscling into his territory but about the poor residents of Whitechapel whom he feels responsible for).
Catherine and Nick’s problems converge and she suggests the unthinkable: a (secret) marriage of convenience between the two. She’ll get her half-control of the auction house, allowing her to put a stop to her brother’s malfeasance. Meanwhile, the very fact of her marriage to a known criminal will be blackmail material to hold over Peter’s head (it would of course be bad for his political career to be related by marriage to someone like Nick). This will allow Nick a measure of political control over Peter, who sits on the board that oversees the condemning of derelict buildings. After five years, they can quietly divorce.
I was glad that the marriage was consummated immediately; Catherine feels like it’s necessary to guard against any legal challenges her brother may throw up, and of course Nick is happy to oblige. The book still didn’t really entirely avoid the tiresome “will they or won’t they?” business since after the first time Catherine resists (and resists and resists) the urge to give it another go. As I’ve gotten older (or maybe just because I’ve read a bajillion romances) I’ve definitely become one of those readers less interested in sex scenes and even less interested in unresolved sexual tension lasting for the better part of a book. I know it’s a traditional element in romance but I am more interested in seeing the conflict and tension between a h/h depicted in other, less trite ways. So often I’d rather see the couple just Do It and get it out of the way.
For the most part, I really liked Luck Be a Lady – for the majority of the book, I was ready to rank it above Lady Be Good, which I gave a B+ to. I very much liked Catherine; she’s a flawed yet sympathetic character who grows in the course of the story. I felt like Nick’s reformation was fairly well-done; there was maybe a little pulling of punches about just how bad a bad guy he’d been, but I sort of expected that. I wouldn’t have minded a smidge more remorse about his treatment of Lily, though when she appears late in the book she seems to have put it all behind her. (Side note: I thought it was strange that whatever letters Lily was stealing for Nick from Peter Everleigh at the beginning of Lady Be Good never came up again. I thought they’d be integrated into this book somehow, but Peter only seems to appear on Nick’s radar when Catherine makes him aware of Peter’s business relationship with another man, named Pilcher, who is the very man Nick is having trouble with. This felt like an oversight, unless I missed something.)
Something happened late in Luck Be a Lady that really pissed me off, though. Nick and Catherine have a conflict and I was really on Catherine’s side but she ended up caving and it bugged me enormously.
Spoiler (Spoiler): Show
Another more minor annoyance: Peter never got his proper comeuppance. Throughout the book he shows himself to be a more and more malevolent person, capable of some pretty bad things. I guess we were supposed to feel like Catherine was safe from him because Nick would protect her, but that didn’t satisfy me, because Peter was still a danger to others. I didn’t necessarily want him dead (though Nick did; he only refrained out of consideration for Catherine). I thought he at least belonged in prison, though.
Up until the last part of the book (the 87% mark on my Kindle, to be exact), Luck Be a Lady was an A- for me. Because of my disappointment over the plot development, I’m dropping it down to a B+. It’s still a very good book, and I look forward to the next Meredith Duran title.