by Donna Lea Simpson, historical/paranormal (2009)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-1791-3
First things first: Lady Anne And The Howl In The Dark contains a romantic component in the story, but this is first and foremost the first book in a historical mystery series featuring our amateur sleuth heroine Lady Anne Addison in the spotlight. The romance is not resolved by the last page - I believe we can all expect to see the romance develop over the course of several books in the series. Secondly, there is a paranormal element to the story, but I still can't help thinking that the paranormal element comes off more like a concession to the current fad rather than a vital aspect of this story.
So, we meet Anne. She's a determined and intelligent heroine who at the start of the story takes the Royal Mail coach and valiantly endures the presence of fat people that for some reason always show up to share carriage space with our lovely heroine in every freaking romance novel that ever featured a public coach. You see, she had received a letter full of dire hysteria from her late fiancé's sister Lydia about how the newly-married woman is having trouble in the homefront. While Anne knows that Lydia is prone to overreacting in any particularly distressing situation, Anne feels that this particular letter is more dire than Lydia's usual drama-filled correspondences. Without much ado, and I suspect that this is because Anne doesn't have anything else to occupy her time, Anne sets off to Darkefell Castle.
Not only does Anne come across the dead body of a woman who later turns out to be Lydia's maid in the wilderness on her way to Darkefell Castle, she soon arrives at the Castle to find herself in what seems like a loose sequel to The Hound of the Baskervilles. If a dead woman isn't bad enough, Anne soon realizes that there are plenty of talks about a werewolf running wild, killing sheep and scaring young ladies. Anne isn't sure whether she believes that such a creature exist. If you hear that the werewolf can stand on its hind legs and speak English, wouldn't you experience similar doubts? However, it soon becomes clear to Anne that someone or something is out there and, as the dead bodies begin to pile up, she is starting to suspect that Lydia's in-laws may be hiding something. Who knows, maybe the handsome Marquess of Darkefell, the bachelor brother of Lydia's husband and the boss of the family, has a few secrets of his own that may be related to the mysterious going-ons around the place.
Romance is not the main focus of this story, so you may be disappointed if you are expecting plenty of breathless moments between Anne and Darkefell. This story serves as a set-up for something to develop between those two. These two don't end up together by the last page, but it's clear that there are plenty of unfinished business between them. Darkefell, at the very least, is not giving up on them yet.
As a mystery, well, I'm pleased to report that this story is pretty intriguing. Ms Simpson has set up a well-drawn Gothic horror setting here, so the atmosphere is fantastic, what with it being chilling, mysterious, and menacing all at once. Anne is no Francesca Cahill, I'm also happy to report. She's not an idiot gasping breathlessly at the sight of a corpse with a bullet hole in the head, wondering to herself whether the dead fellow had been bludgeoned to death with a stick, like I remembered reading in that Francesca Cahill book that had me realizing that I'd better quit that series before I ended up pulling out every hair on my head.
If anything, Anne comes off as too efficient here. I'm not convinced that she is human. She's more like Velma Dinkley and Nancy Drew all rolled into one, unfazed by any hint of danger. The sight of a mauled corpse makes her curious rather than nauseous. She rushes heedlessly into dangerous situations, excited because she believes that she is going to experience something really exciting. She interrogates suspects with all the subtlety of an elephant stampede. Sure, Anne is actually pretty smart here and Darkefell is fortunately always close enough to prevent Anne from doing something too foolhardy even for her, but I find myself wondering how a woman like Anne, who is a 22-year old woman who hadn't seen much outside her father's estate until now, can turn out to be so educated, so curious, and so unfazed by danger.
Anne here is a pretty unusual heroine for any era, be it Regency historical or a distant planet in year 2098, so unless the author chooses to reveal in a later book that Anne is secretly trained in super ninja tricks learned from a guru somewhere in Tibet, I don't know how Anne turns out the way she is. Because I can't see Ann as anything more than a historical version of Velma Dinkley while poor Darkefall has limited point of view here, I find this story rather lacking in the human aspect. Which is to say, I don't feel for the characters or their developing relationship. I'm more interested in finding out how the whole mystery thing, which gets increasingly complicated as the story progresses, gets wrapped up. While I'm disappointed that the villain turns out to be the most obvious suspect in the cast, getting to the revelation is actually pretty good as Ms Simpson handles the mystery pretty well.
Do I want to read the next book in the series? Lady Anne And The Howl In The Dark has me convinced that the series may just be interesting so if I do manage to get my hands on the next book, yeah, I may just want to take a look at it. But this is because the book a pretty interesting historical mystery rather than a romance. If you want to read this book, I'd suggest you adjust your expectations accordingly first. You do not want to read this solely for the romance, that's for sure.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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