REVIEW: The Matrimonial Advertisement by Mimi Matthews
She Wanted Sanctuary…
Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar’s Abbey isn’t the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill—though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome—is anything but a romantic hero.
He Needed Redemption…
Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household—and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.
Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena’s past threatens, will Justin’s burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?
Dear Ms. Matthews,
Your name came to my attention last year because of another novel but this one appeared to have a lot gothic elements + an arraigned marriage and, since I haven’t read either of these book plots in a while, I decided to try this one.
We start with a woman in danger plus a gruff man who feels no woman will ever love him so he’s not even going to look for one. Helena is obviously desperate to escape something – even Justin picks up on that immediately – when she walks into a pub in order to meet a man she’s only corresponded with but whom she hopes to marry. After initially annoying her with his coldness, Helena discovers that this silent, scarred man is the one she’s come to meet.
Turns out the whole idea wasn’t his to begin with but once it got started, he thought “why not.” One look at Helena and Justin knows she’s far above his station. Yet she’s not going away and seems as determined to marry him as he feels it’s all a mistake. Still, he’s immediately attracted to her and after giving her ample opportunity to back out, he decides “if she’s willing …”
Both are holding their cards close to their chests about their pasts. Justin does reveal that he gained his scars in the Cawnpore Massacre during his service in India yet beyond telling Helena that he was with British General Hugh Wheeler (yes, that’s important as far as exculpating Justin from the retaliatory British atrocities against Indians), he says little about what actually happened to him. Of course Helena intends to tell Justin the true reason for her flight from London but before she can spill the beans on their wedding night, her past catches up with her.
WARNING – the reason behind Helena’s fear and terror might be triggering. The details aren’t told until later but if this might be an issue, then you might want to skip those details later. Don’t worry, you’ll know when.
Now Justin knows a little behind what drove Helena to seek refuge – for that is what it is – with him in his isolated estate. Helena told Justin that the main reason she chose him is because his friend in London, who had initially facilitated the vetting, told her that Justin is a man who can protect a woman. Helena is definitely a woman who needs this kind of a man.
Well that information changes things a little for Justin. He’s still going to stand by Helena but after hearing some of the details behind her need for protection, he decides to head to London to seek the counsel and legal knowledge of his friend. If anyone knows how to counter what Helena’s been fighting against, it will be shrewd solicitor Tom Finchley. Plan in hand, Justin heads back and tells Helena what they’ve got to do. But will she trust him and will it work?
This book checks a lot of gothic boxes plus tosses in a Victorian social issue that will curl your toes and not in a good way. The historical details are well researched and integrated into the story. There’s no way this book could be anything but a historical and a mid Victorian one at that. I didn’t feel that I was watching 21st century people with side whiskers or crinolines. What Helena deals with was a real thing. The plan Tom and Justin devise is bold but will hopefully a) work and b) keep them out of court and avoid anything like “Bleak House” estate bleeding.
I felt that the attraction between Helena and Justin is well done. Even though the steamiest thing on page is some smoking hot kissing, emotions crackle between these two. The initial scary, isolated setting is haunting and leaves you ready to jump at what might come around the corner. The tension is palpable. Then things falter somewhat after the action moves to London. The reason behind it makes sense but it takes a lot of the intensity out of the book.
I also felt that Justin emotionally beating himself up over what happened in India is settled too quickly. “Justin it wasn’t your fault” “Oh, okay” is basically all we get. Plus his horrible childhood and what it drove him to do seems to dodge in and out of the plot when it’s convenient. The whole “I’m going to turn into a noble martyr” didn’t work for me either. Up until then, Justin had been single minded and driven to get what he wants then “oh, no, I mustn’t.” Thank goodness that he has come across a woman who is more determined than he. Helena gets great marks from me because she is strong and despite what has happened to her, she hasn’t given in and keeps fighting. Then when she has to, she goes after the man she knows she wants. If not for her, Justin would have just kept wallowing in his angst. Helena snaps him out of it. Go Helena.
Helena gets to be strong but period. Justin gets to help save a woman which as his friend Tom says, is good for him. I have high hopes for the next book in the series as I enjoyed the two characters I believe will be featured in it and there’s a hint of another intriguing situation wafting through the last few pages of this story. There’s a lot I liked here. 60% is good and the rest isn’t too bad. B-