by Liz Carlyle, historical (2000)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-671-03826-5
Liz Carlyle's follow-up to her splendid debut My False Heart, A Woman Scorned is an atmospheric tale of love and fear and everything dark and stormy. Someone has murdered the old coot Henry Rowland, the sixth Marquis of Mercer, people whisper, although his death is ruled as a simple heart attack. It's the widow, Jonet Rowland, they say, who killed him so that she can be merry and free with her lovers. She's an adulteress, a mercenary, a cunning vixen.
Could it be that Sashay Sadie has finally received a role as a main star in a romance, I wonder.
As Captain Cole Amherst and I would soon discover, Sadie isn't playing the role of Jonet. Matriana Virtue the Misunderstood is. Oh well. Cole plays tutor and nanny to Jonet's two sons Stuart and Robert upon the vehement insistence of his uncle who eyes heir Stuart's title and monies. Cole doesn't want to be drawn into the mess, but he takes pity on the children and stays on. And soon finds himself caught in the alluring widow's web.
Of course, someone is trying to murder Jonet and her family.
I am prepared to enjoy A Woman Scorned the way I love My False Heart. A Woman Scorned has the same sexual tension and atmospheric suspense down to perfection, and when two border collies appeared in the story, I'm sure I'd love this book utterly. Unfortunately, several plot points keep bugging me. Now, Jonet is a social pariah, because she's supposed to a promiscuous harlot. But no where in this story am I given any clue that she has behaved in any manner that may give rise to such things. Her friendship with a rake seem to take place under proper circumstances, and even if tongues wag, the whole scandal would surely be no worse than one of the many flying around the Ton. She acts more like a beleaguered widow in distress than any alluring femme fatale. Hence, the whole plot angle about her being a misunderstood man-eater doesn't make much sense.
Her motivations seem vague too. Why does she keep Cole - and me - in the dark about her many secrets long after secrecy no longer makes sense? Jonet spends the first half of the book on the brink of emotional breakdown, but I am allowed little clue as to the nature of her problems (except for the murdered husband thing). She seems to have no trusted friends, and I can't see why - she's a nice person. Jonet's character, motivations, and background are so murky, I have a hard time understanding her.
Cole? Well, he's a bit of a prude. He starts out like a complete prig, flirting with Jonet and then hating her when she flirts back and gets his hormones all fired up. He keeps telling himself - and me - that he hates her, he thinks she's a lousy mother, etc etc etc, then out of the blue, he realizes that he's half in love with her already. Really, m'dear? And when Cole insists that he has not forgotten her ever since he kissed her on her wedding day to the now dead old coot, I do marvel at the wonders of selective memory. Luckily, Cole thaws and becomes a much more magnetic and capable hero towards the later part of the story.
And I really have to wonder, does the author really have to describe everything and anything that happens around the hero and heroine? There's a one page description of a woman climbing up the stairs in front of Cole at one point of the story, nicely detailed right down to the timbre of her voice, but that woman never appears again to play a prominent role in the story. Lots of descriptions of trivial things like this tend to add a lot of clutter to an already hazy story, further murking up the story.
I do adore the two kids and their border collies (so cute - let granny pinch your cheeks, koochie choo choo!), and when Jonet and Cole are together, the air practically comes alive with sexual tension.
A Woman Scorned has great atmosphere, a sense of place, and a great plot. It is also a story that sets up a stage for a dark, unconventional heroine, only to fumble when it starts making the heroine conform to a standard of virtue. The result is a large question mark where the discrepancies between the heroine's actual nature and her reputation are concerned. If this is a movie, I'd say Matriana is miscast. They should've stuck with Sadie.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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