REVIEW: Till Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick
Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.
Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve.
But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker…
Dear Ms. Quick,
I think I have read most of the books you’ve published under this name. My love affair with your books started when I was a fourteen or fifteen year old teenager and your books, together with Barbara Cartland, Judith McNaught and Joanna Lindsey, introduced me to the world of romance. Then I stopped reading most romance for years and years – but not your books. I think I kept buying every single one of them (and I have some in Russian translations as well).
Of course, after reading three or four books I realized that you were essentially writing the same characters over and over again, but if there was ever a case when I could say that formulaic writing worked for me, your books are it. As a buddy at the Amazon boards said – your books hit every happy note for me every single time. (Almost every single time anyway; we won’t talk about “Arcane society”). And this is the main reason for my grade – I enjoyed the book, I thought it was well written, but I literally had met these characters with minor differences and read the same story of their relationship a good fifteen to twenty times by now (the plot does get changed but I would argue that underneath different plot turns lie the same story beats).
As the blurb tells you, Calista operates an “introduction” agency in Victorian London and she has worked really hard to make sure her business thrived. She works by referrals only, and she even tries to investigate potential clients to make sure they are not fortune hunters and are good people. She realizes that there is no guarantee, but she tried very hard to earn and maintain a good reputation as a matchmaker. She invites her clients to salons where interesting lectures of all kinds are given so that afterwards people had things to talk about and could get to know each other better. She also takes care of her younger brother Andrew – well, he is nineteen when story begins so she really does not need to take care of him anymore, and Andrew is now helping her in her investigations, but she still worries about him.
She and Trent meet when Trent comes to see her as a potential client, but it turns out that he has come under false pretenses. Trent actually wanted to make sure that Calista was not defrauding his younger sister Eudora, who came to her as a client. Needless to say they are attracted to each other.
We learn that Calista acquired a scary and potentially dangerous stalker, who had been sending her items described in the blurb and who managed to leave one of them in her bedroom. The first and most obvious suspect is a man to whom Calista almost got engaged a year ago, but who left her when he realized that she is not very rich and that she is “in trade”. Apparently now this man now wants her back and he comes to see her right before Trent’s visit.
The situation deteriorates very quickly, and Trent and Calista end up working together to try and find who has been threatening her life. Of course it not a spoiler to say that eventually their attraction grows into something more than that – they fall in love. I liked them both a lot. I can pinpoint quite easily why Quick’s male characters work so well for me – they may want to protect the woman they show interest in, but they usually respect them too. Trent is no exception – he may not be keen on Calista rushing into dangerous situations, but he respects her skills and abilities and I always like that.
“He seemed to be surrounded by women who felt free to speak their minds and make their opinions known. It was his misfortune that he preferred the company of such females, he thought. They were so much more interesting than the other sort.”
Of course he has plenty of abilities of his own and he keeps some interesting friendships. He needs to do research for his books about crime fighting, you see. I thought he and Calista were well matched. Both had to take care of their younger siblings, both experienced traumas in their past, but they were still determined to fight against their circumstances.
I really liked that they were constantly investigating the mystery and their attraction grew amongst all the action they were involved in, and I liked that the plot was fast moving and intense, even if our couple may have wished for more normalcy sometimes.
““SOMEDAY,” TRENT SAID, “I would very much like to do something normal when we go out together—a stroll through the park, perhaps, or we might go to the theater if we want a bit of excitement.” “Either would certainly be a novelty,” Calista said.”
I was amused to see how the situation with the heroine’s virginity has evolved a little bit over the years in Quick’s romances. I think this is the second book of hers that I’ve read where while the heroine is still a virgin, and no big fuss is made out of it; they do not rush to get married in the middle of the book or anything like that. Moreover, Calista denies that she is still innocent and I agreed with her; I did not think she was saying it for show, so to speak.
“I assure you I have not been innocent for a very long time.” She straightened and put the folders on the desk. “No woman who must make her own way in the world can retain her illusions. And that is what innocence is at its core, is it not? Illusions.” “It seems we are both rather jaded.” She gave him a wry smile. “We are, indeed. Nor are we alone. I certainly am not. Every governess and every paid companion I have ever met is just as realistic, I assure you.”
One last observation I want to make is that I was really surprised, almost shocked, by the identity of the main villain. I don’t know whether it is because I had a brain freeze (since I have never before been surprised by the revelation in her books) or because it was indeed hard to guess, but there you go.