by Loretta Chase, historical (2006, 1994 reissue)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-20965-2
Captives Of The Night is published before Lord Of Scoundrels and The Last Hellion, but the story takes place after these two books.
The heroine of this book, Leila Bridgeburton, is the wife of Francis Beaumont, the villain who makes an appearence in those two books. When she was a young girl, her father died under mysterious circumstances in Italy and she was taken under the wing of the kindly solicitor Andrew Herriard and the seemingly charming young man Francis Beaumont. Leila remembered spying as her father argued with a handsome young man shortly before his death, and she remembered enough to sketch the face of this young man.
But that was long ago, and today, she doesn't recognize the Comte d'Esmond, apparently one of her husband's acquaintances, as the young man she overheard arguing with her father. Ismal Delvina, the Comte, has a longer memory than her, however. He's actually on a mission. Francis has been blackmailing some important men in the government that patronize his brothel in France and That Will Just Not Do. He infiltrates Francis' debauched circle of acquaintances hoping to find a way to stop him. Sitting for a portrait session with Francis' wife complicates matters because these he is attracted to Leila Beaumont and this could jeopardize his mission. Francis subsequently turns up dead and Leila is implicated as a prime suspect. Ismal has to help Leila clear her name.
Ismal's background is complex. For this review, let's just say he is paying penance for his sins against England by serving the country as an agent. Readers are advised to read the related book The Lion's Daughter where Ismal played the villain if they want a full understanding of Ismal's past. This book doesn't give the whole picture to the reader. Even so, Ismal doesn't come off as a whole character as much as he is just facets of a character. He's charming, he's secretive, and he is seductive. But I have no clear idea who he is even at the last page of the story. He is just too much of an enigma to me.
On the other hand, Leila is a more fully-drawn character. She's a passive character often held back by her inhibitions and insecurities, but this is understandable as her father and Francis, the two men in her life, are not exactly the best male authority figures a woman could have. Nonetheless, there is an erotic undercurrent to her sexual coming-of-age that I find very compelling to read. Still, I can't help but to wonder whether she'll be attracted to Ismal if she gets to know more well-adjusted men. After all, her father is a criminal, her first husband is a fiend, and her true love is an agent with many secrets.
Because Ismal doesn't connect with me as a character, I can't get into the romance. I view it more as a coming-of-age experience for Leila than a romantic relationship in its own right. The mystery of Francis' killer, which takes up as much space as the romance here, is fortunately interesting enough to make up for the lack of compelling romance. Because Francis is a skeevy fiend who has been blackmailing many people, expect plenty of skanky secrets waiting to be pulled out from the closets of Leila's acquaintances and friends. Some of these characters, such as Leila's friend Fiona the widowed Viscountess, are well-drawn interesting characters in their own right. All have good reasons to want Francis dead ten times over and when the story is done, the reader may want him dead too. This is one mystery where this reader finds herself rooting for the killer to get away scot free instead of wanting justice for the dead man. While this story could have become really skeevy due to the abundance of sexual and sordid secrets, it doesn't thanks to Ms Chase humanizing many of the suspects and red herrings. (I wish I can say the same for Tracy Grant's Beneath A Silent Moon which is pretty much a game of free-for-all pornographic Cluedo starring skanky blow-up dolls.)
The mood of Captives Of The Night is darker than the author's later books, which may come as a surprise to readers used to lighter Loretta Chase stories. Nonetheless there is a very interesting story featuring compelling characters in here. While I can't say that this book engages my emotions, I can't say that I am in any way bored while I am reading it either.
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