An Affair With Mr. Kennedy
by Jillian Stone, historical (2012)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-2900-2
An Affair With Mr. Kennedy the first book in the band of brothers series The Gentlemen of Scotland Yard. As if there is any other kind of series nowadays, snort.
It's 1887, and England is gearing up for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Just the right time for a bomb or two to go off, naturally. Our Scotland Yard hero Zeno "Zak" Kennedy is on the case. Incidentally, the author calls him Zeno, so I don't know why it is necessary to give Zeno a nickname. But at least it isn't "Devil" or "Demon", I guess. Zeno suspects that the aristocratic Irish sympathizers called the Bloody Four are cooking a plot, and it is good fortune that lets Cassandra St Clare, the sister-in-law of one of his suspects, move in next door to him.
I was initially drawn to this book, lured by the promises of gaslight suspense and romance, but it turns out that this story has about one foot firmly entrenched in the realm of fantasy. After all, the characters in this one are just too amazing to believable. Zeno is a detective, yes, but he is also wealthy, owning several properties in town. He is also said to be an amazing athlete, investigator, and even opera tenor. Not only that, he is gorgeous (of course) and has no restriction when it comes to moving in and out of upper crust social circles. The only "imperfection" he has is his personal investment in the case, and even then, this "imperfection" is designed to turn him into some tragic haunted dude. Zeno is like a cardboard cut-out of a handsome guy with a hundred clichés scrawled all over its flat surface.
Cassie is amazing too, but she's lucky. There are a thousand heroes like Zeno being cranked out every month, but Cassie is an unique heroine. In this case, it's okay if she is too amazing to be real, because at least she's a different kind of amazing. Her physician parents are very liberated types, and she participates in her mother's affirmative action campaigns. Cassie is also an amazing artist, and she is so good that practically everyone adores her works. The thing is, Cassie is also an interesting heroine because she is free from the typical tedious baggage carried by other heroines of her type. While she hasn't had a lover since her husband's death, she sees no problem in taking Zeno as a lover. After all, she thinks that he's hot, he wants her too, and she is a modern woman. Why hesitate? Throughout the entire story, Cassie remains in character, and I like this. She's different from the usual heroine, and that's good.
The author is very economical when it comes to her words and pacing. Scenes move at a brisk pace from start to finish, and often, details are presented only when necessary. Now, this is fine for the mystery and suspense parts of this story, but such economy is not good for the romantic scenes at all. Love scenes end up becoming a join-the-dots color-according-to-numbers affair, often made unintentionally hilarious with the author's brusque but purple way with phrases, especially when it comes to descriptions of the monster between Zeno's legs. Tender moments falter because they take place at a speed usually reserved for panicked women drivers in labor dashing along a highway to a hospital. It's hard to engage my emotions in these romantic moments because the author merely skims the surface of the characters' thoughts and emotions before rushing off to the next scene.
And here's the perplexing thing: the author's tone works better for the mystery and suspense parts of her story, but these mystery and suspense parts are actually the worst aspects of this story. The romance is salvaged by the fact that it's different from the typical "boy shags girl, girl plays the martyr, boy saves girl, girl pops out baby boy" arc, and Cassie is a nice change from the usual romance heroine clichés. The mystery subplot, on the other hand, is predictable and it's also rife with cartoon villains who are determined to crush our hero and posses our heroine with a tenacity rarely seen since Ming the Conqueror retired in shame. Our hero and his band of brothers are so talented, capable, and amazing - so obviously in a pantheon of perfection above us mere mortals - that it's pretty obvious that they will get their men, it's just a matter of time. And to allow the obligatory heroine in distress scene to happen, Cassie wanders around alone right into the villain's clutches for the grand "Must save Cass! Insert manly roar here!" moment.
So, here we have an interesting romance, but it's written with the charm of hammers hitting my head with rapid speed and force. This style makes the suspense bits far more interesting and even occasionally thrilling to read, but the very nature of the suspense subplot is flawed as it is badly constructed from tired and play-out clichéd tropes. What an odd book, this, and it's just too bad that An Affair With Mr. Kennedy isn't better put together.
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