Three Little Secrets, by Liz Carlyle

>> Wednesday, May 03, 2006

book coverLiz Carlyle newest trilogy started with the somewhat disappointing One Little Sin, but continued with the absolutely wonderful Two Little Lies. When the third book, Three Little Secrets, came out, I couldn't wait to see what it was going to be!

Fortunately, I was able to hold myself back and not buy it immediately, because my sister's best friend brought it back from New York as a surprise gift, a thank you for letting her borrow my books!

Wealthy real estate baron Merrick MacLachlan is the polar opposite of his polished, ever-so-charming brother. While Sir Alasdair is fair and handsome, Merrick is a true black Scot, both in looks and in temperament. With his inky hair, penetrating eyes, and badly scarred face, Merrick has always made the ton deeply uncomfortable.

Professionally, Merrick has attained a level of wealth and power which no one could have imagined when he was a brilliant but starving young architect. Privately, he has no life—which is just how he likes it. But his rigid, tightly-controlled existence is about to spin out of control. Because once upon a time, Merrick did have a life. And then, he made a terrible mistake. Her name was Madeleine. And if ever he is tempted to forget her, he has but to look at the scars she left behind...
So, was it more like OLS or like TLL? I'm happy to say it's somewhere in the middle, but tending more to the level of TLL. A B+.

Anyone who read TLL was probably intrigued by the scene in which Merrick encounters his mysterious wife while showing Quin the houses he's building. Just as an intriguing scene of TLL was first shown in OLS, and then showed from a different perspective in TLL, we see the encounter between Merrick and Madeleine again in this book.

Thirteen years earlier, Maddie and Merrick eloped to Gretna Green when it became clear that her father was determined to marry off his daughter in a way that would benefit his political career and would never allow her to marry the undistinguished younger son of a minor Scottish nobleman. But disaster struck the very morning after the wedding, when Merrick was ambushed in the stables by Maddie's father's henchmen and left half-dead after a severe beating. Not, however, before Lord Howard told him that Maddie had changed her mind and would be leaving him.

As for Maddie, her father showed her "proof" that Merrick had married her for her money, and told her he'd bribed the man to get an annulment of their marriage. The very naive Maddie (who had no idea at first of what an annulment even was) swallowed the story hook, line and sinker, even though she still longed to get Merrick back and refused to marry, wanting to wait for Merrick to come back. A few weeks later, however, when it became clear that she'd become pregnant and Merrick showed no sign of coming back (the poor man was actually still in a coma, as she will later find out), she accepted the marriage proposal from a cousin on her mother's side and left with him for Italy.

But when they meet again in London, all those lies and secrets start coming to the light, including the fact that they seem to be married still. Neither knows what they want to do about that, however, and seeing each other again only makes those doubts greater.

There are obviously certain similarities here with Two Little Lies. The passionate relationship when both were two immature and somewhat foolish kids, the resulting secret baby, the separation due to some kind of misunderstanding, the heroine who spends the next few years in Italy, and so on. Still, the books were very different in feel and in where they took the consequences of this past. I think I liked TLL better because of the heroine, basically, because Viviana was a more interesting character than Maddie, but both were very satisfying books.

As Marg says in her review of this book, this whole series is full of clichéd plot elements, and TLS is no exception, with its Secret Baby and Big Misunderstanding. And yet, this works wonderfully, because Carlyle makes excellent use of these plots.

Take the Big Mis, for instance. Sure, the actual facts can be cleared up with a 5 minute conversation, but does it make sense that they would immediately believe what the other is saying? I'd go for no. Their reactions are perfect. Maddie and Merrick do start communicating from the beginning (no idiotic "if he believes that of me, then I won't tell him/her the truth!"), but they don't really completely buy what the other is saying until after some time has passed.

Also a positive is that it's not a matter of clearing up what happened and then all is fine between them and they might as well get take up where they left. No, there's also the matter that they themselves weren't completely without responsability in the whole affair. Pride and spinelessness played a part in it all. Both were understandable, but there's still the fact that they can't lay all the blame on Maddie's father's door, and they need to forgive themselves and each other for this.

As for the secret baby, it was perfectly fine, too, basically because Maddie's decision to keep him secret was understandable and justified. Geoff was an interesting character himself, and I loved the subplot about his supposed "mental problems", not least because I liked how this tied in the story with the protagonists from Beauty Like The Night. I do wish Carlyle had tied up the ends she loosened with Geoff's disastrous pronouncement to Ariane, but it was interesting to see the Rutledges and not in a sappy, see-how-they-are-deliriously-happy way.

I have loved that this whole trilogy has lacked suspense subplots and has been completely character-driven. There's been more than enough inner conflict to drive the books. In the case of TLS, however, I confess my enjoyment was slightly lessened because I somehow became convinced that there was some kind of villain lurking about. I'm refering to Bess Bromley, one of the prostitutes with whom Merrick "associates" at the beginning of the book. She's such a shocking character, and so much is made of her cold, empty eyes, that I was convinced that Carlyle was setting things up for some kind of plot involving her, and for some rason, I was completely dreading that. As it turns out, we never see her again after the day in which she's sent away by Merrick after he meets Maddie in his office, and this felt kind of weird. Even a few hundred pages later, Maddie was still commenting on the cold, scary eyes of the woman she'd seen in Merrick's office, which made me even more convinced that she'd show up at some point and try to wreck some damage. I wonder if the woman is what remained of some kind of plot that Carlyle finally decided to edit out?

And related to this, this is probably just me being a prude, a close-minded prude who clings to "the rules" for romance novels, but I truly dislike to see the hero having sex with someone else, and at the beginning of TLS, we see Merrick having sex with TWO prostitutes: the aforementioned cold-eyed Bess and another, Kitty. I know this is supposed to show us how Maddie's desertion has made Merrick a lonely, cold man, incapable of warmness even in his most intimate relationships, but seeing those ugly sex scenes left a bad taste in my mouth, especially when I contrasted them with the really sweet, passionate scenes of their youthful romance, which I loved.

I really liked how Carlyle finished this. By the time the final scene comes, it's become pretty obvious that their relation is, indeed, going somewhere, and that both want it to, but this final big gesture on Maddie's part was the perfect way to end things in a way that didn't feel anticlimactic. It was just lovely, and it showed how much Maddie had changed from the somewhat passive young woman she used to be.

I can't wait to hear what's coming next for Carlyle. This new trilogy has definitely turned out to be good!


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