I received this Kindle ARC through NetGalley from the publisher, Season Publishing.
An intriguing historical novel, a mix of mystery and romance, this book was a quick, absorbing read. Educational too, as the author chose a real-life mystery to power her imagination. In 1812, the British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was shot dead by John Bellingham. To this day, that assassination baffles historians. Was it a conspiracy? If yes, who was involved? Ms. Diener let this particular crime propel her plot. And the protagonists are caught up in the dangerous tangle of political lies and inept, panicked scrambling of the bad guys.
The novel starts with Phoebe, the female lead, being jilted by her fiancé. She never liked him; it was a match arranged by her late father, but it still stings. When a couple days later, Perceval is assassinated, she doesn’t suspect a connection… until a strange letter arrives from her former betrothed, then the news of his death reaches London, and then someone tries to kill her.
Frightened and confused, forced to deal with the disdain of the ton inspired by her broken betrothal, she has no other option but trust a strange man she discovers in her garden.
James, the Duke of Wittaker, tries to find the truth behind the Prime Minister’s assassination, and his clues lead him to Phoebe.
The instant sexual attraction between the protagonists was one of the few points I didn’t like about this novel. It didn’t feel real. On the other hand, perhaps the extreme situation both found themselves in forged their mutual bond. Before their precipitous meeting, both have been living a lie. She – by playing a demure society miss while she despised her fiancé and wanted nothing to do with the empty balls and gossips. He – by pretending to be a wastrel, a dissolute rake, a role foisted on him by his father to spy on certain segment of the ton for the crown.
As they investigate the assassination and the possible conspiracy attached to it, their connection deepens. They both finally break free from the cocoons of mendacity restraining them, daring to be true to each other and to themselves. Their burgeoning love seems to be an afterthought, almost a side effect of their inner liberation from the mires of deception.
The action is not merely fast – it’s galloping like a runaway horse. New perils erupt every few pages, and the further the heroes get in their investigation, the more questions they have. In fact, they must deal with so many problems so quickly that the character development suffers. For example, we don’t know anything about Phoebe’s past, which hampers our understanding of her frequent and sudden flares of anger.
James is defined much better; he is a spy who doesn’t wish to spy anymore, and Phoebe is his ticket out, a woman who recognizes the real man behind his mask, just as he peers behind hers and sees an intellect to match his own. It doesn’t scare him off, as it would most men in his position. Just the opposite, he wants her at his side.
The secondary characters are all rather sketchy, both good and bad, and the story could’ve benefited from their further development, but on the whole, it was a satisfying read. I enjoyed this novel and recommend it to any reader of light historical fiction.