Widow in Scarlet, by Nicole Byrd

>> Monday, April 25, 2005

I've been doing way too much rereading lately, and my TBR is going out of control. I'm going to do my best to start reading more from it and see if I can make at least a dent.

I picked out Widow in Scarlet (excerpt), by Nicole Byrd, pretty much at random, from the pile of books I have by new-to-me authors.

Lord of mystery...

Nicholas Ramsey, Viscount Richmond, has a well-earned reputation for seduction and scandal. What isn't so widely known is the secret mission entrusted to him by the Prince Regent--to bring to England a legendary ruby known as the "Scarlet Widow," destined to take its place among the crown jewels. But many have killed for the ruby in the past, and when Nicholas's friend is killed and the jewel taken, Nicholas vows to find both the murderer and the ruby in a search that leads him to another widow...

Widow in Scarlet

Lucy Contrain thinks Nicholas is mad when he requests to look through her late husband's belongings. Wary of the aristocrat who's supposed to have a "way with the widows," she doubts his intentions can be good. But when he accuses her dead husband of taking part in the theft of a fabulous jewel, Lucy insists on helping him with the hope of clearing her husband's name. She has no idea their search will leal them into deadly danger--or headlong into a passion that neither can resist...
Widow in Scarlet started out well, but a lack of development in the romance meant that the very likeable characters alone couldn't make the book a success. My grade: a C+.

Taken on their own, I really enjoyed both Nicholas and Lucy, but most especially the latter. I liked her courage and her resourcefulness when her husband's death left her nearly destitute, and I liked her sensible attitude when faced with Nicholas' account of the suspicions about her husband. I even liked that she refused to demonize her husband. I mean, in her place, I probably would have started hating him, after finding out about his hypocrisy and duplicity, but if Lucy preferred to remember the times when he was kind, while accepting her faults, well, whatever worked for her.

What I liked best about her, though, was her refusing to be a doormat. The couple of scenes in which she puts her meddling, spiteful, gossipping cousin and neighbour in their places were priceless!

Nicholas was nice, but felt less individual. The first scene didn't start the book well, and if I had read it before buying the book, I really don't know if I would have bought it, as first scenes showing the hero with a mistress he obviously cares nothing about are a bit of a pet peeve for me. Too often, in an effort to distinguish what he does with the heroine from what he does with these sluts and whores, the hero has a disdainful attitude, and I hate that, that he'd despise a woman he sleeps with.

Not Nicholas. Yes, he had no fondness for the woman in question and was irritated by her, but he treated her well, and I guess that is something. And after that, he came across as a really nice guy, always doing his best to help Lucy and treating her well.

The problem, though, was that after the first part of the book, in which their relationship gets started, every whiff of attraction and passion between them just vanished.

On one hand, their relationship was wonderfully free of overbearing, macho-man superiority. I really liked that they were very much partners in looking for the ruby, after only a half-hearted attempt by Nicholas to keep Lucy safe by having her stay at home while he went to dangerous areas.

On the other hand, and this is the thing, as much as they discussed and plotted and made their plans, much too much of that talking was only about their investigation. At one point Lucy wonders if he's not losing interest in her (apparently, he isn't, he just doesn't want her to think he's brought her into his house to have her handy for sex), and to be honest, I was wondering the same thing.

And then, near the end, when the authors finally focus again on the romantic relationship, there's this issue about Nicholas which just came out of the blue and became a problem between them. It didn't feel organic to the book at all, if just felt artificially grafted to create some conflict, and it didn't work at all for me.

As for the mystery, as much as I liked how Lucy and Nicholas cooperated to solve it, I had several problems with it. First of all, if it hadn't been for Lucy needing the reward money, I would have been rooting for them to fail. The whole search for the ruby was in order to keep the Prince Regent from looking like an idiot to the people. Why am I supposed to care? The Prinny in this book, at least, came across as a petulant, irresponsible, childish man, who thinks nothing of needlessly dropping a cart-load of public money to purchase a gem for his coronation. so what's so bad if the whole mission fails and he looks bad?

Then there was the absolute obviousness of where the gem must be (or rather, who should be asked about it). Lucy and Nicholas looked like absolute boobs for not doing so. Every time they talked to this person, I was going "Ask about it, ask about it!", but they never even thought about it.

Even with all this, I didn't have a bad time reading this. Still, I hope to have better luck with my next random pick from my TBR.


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