The Legacy of Croft Castle, by Jean Barrett

>> Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Legacy of Croft Castle, by Jean Barrett is part of the Harlequin Intrigue Eclipse promotion of gothic mysteries. Strangely enough, even though I'm a fan of gothics, this is the first I read in this line.

Ghost hunter Meredith Allen couldn't resist the summons to Croft Castle. A centuries-old ghost had suddenly become more than a nuisance — it had become deadly. But the castle with its eerie glowing lights, secret passages and ghostly apparitions was not her greatest obstacle — it was the very mortal, very manly presence of private eye Jackson Hawke.

Jackson was convinced that the perpetrator behind the strange happenings at Croft Castle was human. Only, he needed Meredith's help to prove it, even if her nearness clouded his judgment, aroused his desire…and made him fear for her safety. But Meredith was right about one thing — there was something evil in the castle, and the more they investigated, the deeper the mystery grew…the stronger their passion burned….
A fun mystery set in a truly creepy and well done location, with a romance that's quite nice, if a little bit bland. A B-.

It says something about the under-utilization of contemporary Europe as a setting, especially in series romance, that I was quite surprised to see this book was set in England. Seeing "Croft Castle" in the title wasn't that big a clue, as far as I was concerned, since I've read more than a few books with castles moved to America stone by stone by eccentric ancestors. That's what I was expecting here, too, but nope, Croft Castle was located in an island in Cornwall. Quite nice, that surprise!

And even nicer was the way the author made use of this setting, making it come alive so much that it was like a character on its own right, the very mark of a gothic. Croft Castle is wonderfully creepy and atmospheric (as is the whole island it's built on), and the mystery centred on it truly intriguing and unique, with a nice combination of very human villains and the occasional ghost.

It wasn't perfect, though. Even liking the basic plot quite a bit, I had some trouble with how Barrett wrote Jackson and Meredith's investigation of the case. Even when they were right about their conclusions, their reasoning felt flimsy. I don't know if I'm expressing it very well... I just mean that sometimes they'd reach certain conclusions (which were the correct ones) and it didn't seem to me that there was enough evidence for them to draw from and actually deduce their conclusions. You could see the hand of the author there, propelling Meredith and Jackson from point A to B to C.

And also, it might not be particularly fair of me, but I have a golden standard against which I can't help but compare ghost stories, and that is Barbara Michaels' books. In her stories, the protagonists work very hard not to be gullible and to only conclude the explanation to strange events is supernatural phenomena when the evidence is solid. Compared to them, Meredith is a gullible idiot. She already arrives at Croft Castle 99% convinced that she's going to be investigating a real ghost, and that of Edward Atheling, at that. And she goes the extra step into 100% belief at the slightest excuse, after seeing something that is suggestive, but hardly conclusive! Again, of course she's absolutely right in her conclusions, but I wasn't convinced by the process.

The romance itself was ok. Not great, but ok. I liked both protagonists, and they genuinely liked each other, too, which was good. Still, there just wasn't enough character development or heat between them to make the romance really exciting.

I'm going to have to try some more Eclipse titles. This wasn't perfect, but it mostly hit the spot.


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