by Julie Beard, historical (2003)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-19439-6
Despite boasting a premise that is one of my favorites (tortured heroines on a crusade tinged with intrigue), Midnight Angel ultimately ends up a very discordant read for me. The mystery is below average and relies too much on lucky coincidences, the conflict between the hero and the heroine peters out too early, but the most damning of all is the fact that the hero is a very weak Daddy's Little Boy. Daddy's Little Girls are annoying enough, but here we have a very gullible Daddy's Little Boy and Daddy is a monster in every sense of the word. It ain't pretty, trust me.
Lydia Parker has a painful past. She once loved Hugh Montgomery, but his father started a chain of truly nasty things on our couple (involved locked rooms, drugs, selling the heroine to prostitution, and a kitchen sink imported from a Bollywood studio in Mumbai), so bye bye love it has to be, how sad. Today Lydia is the wife of the sick Earl of Beaumont. At night, she dresses as a man and helps the streetwalkers of the night. When her husband's illegitimate daughter goes missing, Lydia has to plunge back to the seedy darkside of London to save her. This brings her to Hugh, now an opium-addicted criminal investigator.
The author makes it clear soon enough that she's more focused on the external conflict in this story instead of developing the relationship between Lydia and Hugh. But the conflict is not good at all. Clues pop up due to lucky coincidences. There is a lack of urgency in the investigation procedures. The identity of the big bad villain as a convenient end-to-all-problems plot device doesn't help matters much. Hugh and Lydia offer little emotional resonance to make up for the subpar mystery: Lydia falls into Hugh's arms - and bed - unbelievably quickly despite her initial reservations. Hugh comes off really badly as a man that knows what his father did to Lydia and still has the temerity to tell Lydia that his father did everything for their own good. Normally it's the heroine that comes with some truly perverse Daddy complex, but here it is the hero that needs psychiatric help.
Ultimately, Julie Beard chickens out on tackling the difficult issues she herself brings up in Midnight Angel, relying instead on contrived coincidences, unlikely circumstances, and when even that fails, sweeps everything else that needs to be addressed in the main characters' relationship under the proverbial rug and shoves a forced happy ending onto the couple. The result is a book that has an interesting premise but ends up a dry and uninteresting read instead.
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