Winterset, by Candace Camp

>> Friday, December 23, 2005

Winterset is the third book in Candace Camp's Moreland family series, of which I read the first book, Mesmerized.

Mesmerized was my second try of an author I hadn't much liked in her bodice-ripper incarnation, many years ago, and it was a pleasant surprise. It didn't blow me away, but it was a nice enough read that I was interested in Winterset.

Despite its graceful beauty, Winterset remains shrouded in the mystery of its dark past. . .

Ever Since Anna Holcombe inexplicably refused his proposal, Reed Moreland has been unable to set foot in the home that was the backdrop to their romance—Winterset. The eerie beauty of the Gloucestershire mansion and the mystery that surrounds it have always captivated him, and he can neither continue living in the house nor give it up completely despite the painful memories it stirs in his heart.

But when Reed begins having his troubling dreams about Anna being in danger, he puts his heartbreak and bitterness aside and directs his carriage back to Winterset, determined to protect the woman he cannot stop loving. Once again passion flares between them, but the murder of a servant girl draws them deep in to the foreboding, deadly legends of Winterset. . .and a destiny neither Anna nor Reed can escape.
To a lesser degree, my experience with Winterset to the one I had with Susanna Kearsley's wonderful The Shadowy Horses. This was a book I enjoyed even while realizing it had certain flaws and that most people wouldn't like it nearly as much. My grade is a B, then, but I'm pretty sure it will be lower for the majority of its readers.

This is quite a quiet story, considering the events surrounding it. It combines a second chance romance with a gothic- and paranormal-tinged mystery, and both very much engaged my attention.

Three years before the start of the story, Reed Moreland fell in love with Anna Holcombe on a visit to his newly purchased estate, Winterset. He had good reason to think she returned his feelings, and the courtship proceeded swimmingly, but when he proposed, she rejected him in terms that didn't leave him any grounds for hope. He immediately left Winterset and never went back.

The story starts as Reed wakes up after a truly scary dream about Anna, which convinces him of the fact that she's in danger. See, after his sisters' experiences with the paranormal (narrated in the two previous books) Reed is pretty open-minded about this kind of thing. Still, he can't very well write to Anna about it, so he decides to go to Winterset for a while, with the excuse of looking it over in order to sell it, which he realizes he really should seriously consider.

When he arrives everything seems just fine... until the body of a maid employed at Anna's house is found, clawed to death by what seems to be an animal, only there are no animals that big in the environs. Fifty years before there was a case just like that one (same claw marks, similar victim), which only adds to the mystery, especially when another body is found, also exactly echoing the old murders.

And then there's the fact that Reed's feelings for Anna are still very much alive, and that he still seems to get the feeling that Anna is very much attracted to him, too. As they team up to investigate the murders, the romance quickly flares up again.

Now, let's just look at the romance angle. The first thing I thought when I read the first few pages what that Anna had better have a very good reason for her actions of three years before. If she'd rejected Reed because she wasn't good enough for the son of a duke, or because she needed to take care of her brother and father, I thought, I'd probably have banged the book against the wall. Fortunately, the reason Camp gives her is a very good one, and her actions make perfect sense. Furthermore, she doesn't cling to the secret overlong. It's something she'd obviously want to keep a secret, but she tells Reed at the exact moment it made sense for her to do so.

Reed and Anna's romance is not a particularly exciting one -no fiery passions, no high tempers- but I liked it. These two people obviously liked each other immensely, as well as being attracted to one another. They enjoyed simply spending time together and talking, and I got the feeling they were perfectly suited.

Reed is quite a nice guy. His characterization wasn't particularly deep, but I liked what there was of it. As for Anna, she won my heart unconditionally with her good sense when, after the attacks, she decided to take precautions and give up her freedom to go for rides alone for a while, taking a groom with her instead. So refreshing!

The mystery was a truly interesting one, and I enjoyed the investigation. I realize I haven't mentioned it yet, but Anna is a bit of a psychic herself, and has spells in which she, for instance, kind of connects to the violence that happened at a certain place and feels what the people are feeling. That is crucial to the investigation, but it didn't feel like a cop-out. It and the more normal fact-finding activities were well combined and made for an interesting case.

My only problem with Winterset was the writing style, something that's a bit strange, considering how long Camp has been writing professionally. She kept jerking the POV around. I don't mind head-hopping from the hero to the heroine (or even to other characters, occasionally), as long as it is well done, but Camp would keep sticking bits of omniscient POV in there. She'd be in Anna's head, as she dressed up in her oldest clothes and went to meet Reed, and then, in the same paragraph, point out that what Anna didn't know was that those clothes made her look beautiful. This wasn't something I'd even have noticed a few years ago, but I did this time, and it kept throwing me out of the action.

As I mentioned, Winterset is part of a series, but it stands alone just fine. There are some characters from the previous books, and certain events mentioned, but they aren't much of a bother. In fact, the hero and heroine from book 2, Beyond Compare ,show up, and even though I didn't read that one, I was never lost.


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