Dark Obsession
by Allison Chase, historical (2008)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22387-6


Allison Chase isn't a new author as she has written a few historical romances for Zebra in the past under the name Lisa Manuel. I haven't been able to keep track of the Lisa Manuel's books thanks to the fact that I couldn't find those books anywhere in the bookstores here, so I am most eager to read Dark Obsession in order to catch up with what I have missed.

This is a historical romance with some ghosts floating around here and there to... I don't know, make the story feel current, I suppose. The ghosts could easily be scrapped from the story, but that would mean that the main characters will have to work harder to learn more about things instead of having the information handed to them on a ghostly platter.

Our heroine, Nora Thorngoode, is of new money, which means that her family currently exist at the fringe of the upper crust society and the pressure on Nora to marry a blue-blooded gentleman is pretty intense. Nora, however, wants to be an artist... until her current artist acquaintance deliberately paints an explicit painting of her - in the nude and in a most suggestive pose - and exhibits the painting in a public exhibition in order to coerce her into marrying him. Nora naturally refuses and insists, like every other dim-witted heroine with more enthusiasm than perspective, that she can run off somewhere else to pursue her hobby as the scandal rages around him. Since she had never posed for that jerk, she doesn't see why she has to marry, after all! Just stick a paintbrush between her teeth and she will be happy!

Her parents disagree and marry her off to emo extraordinaire, Grayson Lowell, a nobleman who is currently playing the saddest song on the smallest violin in the world because his brother apparently committed suicide after exchanging some harsh words with Grayson over the man's mismanagement of the family finances. Grayson blames himself for the man's death and willingly lets society think the worst of him because he feels that he deserves every thing he gets for being such a meanie towards his brother. Luckily for the two of them, there are some ghosts in Blackheath Manor that will provide a helping hand or two as the two of them gradually overcome their initial unflattering impression of each other to fall in love. Oh, and to figure out who wants Nora dead. What, you think there won't be such a subplot when the story takes place in a spooky place called Blackheath Moor?

Dark Obsession is appropriately dour and the hero predictably wears his sad face as if being monotonously emo is fast going out of fashion. This is not a bad read, I find, as the characters are generally sensible and self-aware when they should be. The romance is pretty well portrayed and convincing, although the characters can behave somewhat inconsistently now and then. However, I find the characters predictable in many ways, probably too much so for their own good. Nora is, of course, the feisty Heroine With A Dream Of Her Own until she falls in love where she then becomes the feisty Heroine Who Wants To Champion The Misunderstood Hero And His Lonely Nephew because there is nothing like a sad hero and a lonely kid to activate a heroine's maternal/sex goddess genes. Grayson is passive when it comes to his own blues because he is so emo like that. I've seen that song of his being played so many times before and it's unfortunate, I feel, that he sticks pretty closely to the tune. The characters are on the whole fine, but I also find them too much on the generic side to be fully memorable.

But what disappoints me the most is how Ms Chase ends up white-washing Grayson's guilt to the point that in the end, Grayson realizes that he doesn't have that many reasons to get so dramatically guilt-ridden. While the suspense involving his best friend is pretty well-done (provided that I can overcome my cynicism and believe even for a second that an obvious sequel-bait character can ever be guilty of murder), the rest of the resolution of the mystery feels like a complete cop-out as it is too tidy.

Dark Obsession is well-written and there are some admirable attempts at turning the characters into complex three-dimensional types, but on the whole I find that the story is also on the dull side. This is not a book that I feel even a little enthusiastic over, as a result. Nice cover, though, although the guy's nipples seem rather tiny compared to the rest of him.

Rating: 78


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