The Dark Viscount
by Deborah Simmons, historical (2008)
Harlequin Historical, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-373-29518-0


The Dark Viscount has great build-up, occasional chills, and the rare heroine who can think, come to the correct conclusions, and take care of herself. Unfortunately, this one makes a far better Gothic mystery than a romance.

Sydony Marchant, our young genteel heroine, and her older brother Kit are not sure what they would do with themselves once their genteel father passed away because their father wasn't exactly the most responsible person when it comes to their finances. They are prepared to face genteel penury when they learn that they have inherited a property from a distant aunt.

When this story opens, Kit and Sydony arrive in Oakfield to realize to their collective dismay that the property is not only run down from neglect, the place is also deserted. No servants, no one to greet them, nothing. No matter, at least they still have a home, so they are determined to make the best of the situation... until they discover that their late aunt had gone bonkers in her final days, having ordered all windows facing the maze in the back of the big medieval-era manor to be barricaded. Also, the locals whisper of sinister happenings that plague the folks associated with Oakfield even distantly.

Still, the situation isn't so bleak for Sydony, surely, when her childhood friend Bartholomew "Barto" Hawthorne, shows up. But she soon realizes that he too has his own reasons to be here, and it isn't love, let's just say. What is going on here? Kit tends to dismiss her suspicions and fears, so it seems like she is alone in trying to solve the mystery of Oakfield... is she? Of course, there are some people out there who don't like it when she sticks her nose where it doesn't long.

I can see the ending denouement coming from a mile away, since when the author begins dropping clues, she does it in a way that allows me to guess correctly what will happen in the climatic moment. However, for a long time, this story is a very intriguing read due to Ms Simmons' deft way with building up the suspense and scattering some chills here and there. It also helps that Sydony is a smart heroine. She may be out of her depths when it comes to exploring mysteries of creepy manors, but she is never helpless. In fact, she is very resourceful - I want to applaud when she actually rescues herself from the bad guys late in the story. Sydony is also understandably suspicious of the hero and she never lets her attraction to him turn her into a simpering idiot susceptible to Barto's manipulations. Sydnony makes a great heroine for a Gothic mystery such as this one.

The romance, I'm afraid to report, is however on the very thin side. Barto spends a lot of time posturing and glowering like a silly boy who wants to emulate Edward Cullen a little too much, so much so that he allows Sydony to continue suspecting him of sinister things. I don't blame her in this case because he is not being honest with her. While Barto has legitimate reasons to keep silent about his purpose in this story, he also tends to go on and on about how his time in London has taught him not to trust people, blah blah blah. There is way too much emo hot air from him.

Because Barto is too busy scowling and glowering at life and Sydony as a result has no reason to get touchy-feely with him, the romance is not exactly there in this story. It is only very late in the story when they decide that they are in love and their love is this grand. How nice for them, but I'm not buying the love thing one bit.

The Dark Viscount is a very atmospheric, intriguing, and entertaining read. On the down side, it's not a particularly romantic read. Still, if you are in the mood for a Gothic story featuring a smart heroine, you may want to take a look at this one.

Rating: 82


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