Let me start out by saying that however betrayed I feel by this book, it only cost me $0.99, so I should really stop bitching and moaning about it (but I won’t).
I love covers like this one, where the characters seem to be on the world’s most giant bed. Anyway.
I learned a valuable lesson about myself while reading this book: the angrier a book makes me, the less likely I am to stop reading it. If a book is just boring, I’ll probably set it aside in favor of something more interesting, but nothing will stop me from finishing a book that offends me deeply. Weird, huh?
This is the third book in a series, and I should admit that I haven’t read any of the others. A few months ago, I downloaded a sample of the second book, but it didn’t catch my attention enough to make me want to buy it. I really should have been paying better attention when I purchased Tempted at Every Turn, but I just didn’t notice that it was by the same author.
There were really three things that I strongly disliked about this book:
1. “Intelligent” characters did not behave intelligently.
Both the male and female leads in this one are set up as intelligent characters. Willow is described as being very clever and excellent at solving puzzles and mysteries. She is a member of the Ladies Amateur Sleuth Society (although the four members pretty much just gather to talk about boys, because that’s what women do when we get together, right?), and all of the expositional indications of her character focus on her intelligence, so you assume that she will act with intelligence throughout the book. James, meanwhile, is set up as an intelligent man and a stellar Investigator with Scotland Yard, so you assume, going into it, that he will act intelligently and that he will be good at his job (you know, as a stellar investigator). While it should be safe to assume that supposedly intelligent characters will use their noggins when making decisions, that’s not what happens in this book. Willow’s decisions have no logical basis at all (frankly, I can’t even figure them out from an emotional perspective), and I can’t think of a single instance of her intelligence in action throughout the book (even the two “Willow is so smart” snippets I highlight below (item # 3) aren’t examples of Willow actually being intelligent…). James approaches investigating the same way a person would if his entire occupational experience of investigation consisted of his having watched a few episodes of Columbo or Murder, She Wrote when he was a kid. So what was the point of describing them as intelligent people?
2. Characters’ decisions (and characters’ character traits) did not make sense
This one is sort of an elaboration on the first point. In general, the characters in this book did not make sense. Willow’s mom suffers from some sort of mental illness, so Willow decided, when she was about eighteen or nineteen years old, that she would never marry because it was her duty to take care of her mother. To that end, she discouraged all male attention and made it to age 29 without a single suitor. Then, she meets James, and it all kind of goes to hell. She still doesn’t want to marry, but her reasoning doesn’t really make sense in light of other, much more obvious reasons to avoid marrying. I mean, if your mom is all kinds of crazy, it makes sense to avoid marrying because you are afraid of passing mental illness on to your children. With that reason–perfectly logical–just hanging out there like an unacknowledged elephant in the room, it seems really bizarre that Willow is so hooked, so focused on the idea that she can’t marry because it would be impossible for her to care for both her mother and her family. If she’s so damn intelligent, why doesn’t it occur to her (until a man points it out) that a lot of folks end up caring for both their families and their ailing parents, and they manage to make it work just fine. Her decision just doesn’t make sense.
James has spent his entire life bucking convention, and we’re given a reason for it, but it doesn’t really make sense. So his uncle got away with a crime because he was a peer (of the realm)… and that unfairness prompts James to turn his back on society and all of its stupid rules… OK, what does his uncle’s crime have to do with etiquette and polite behavior? And is James’ haircut (or lack thereof) seriously connected to his uncle’s perfidy? Really, like that’s his big character motivation?! And–I love it–he can’t even consider marrying Willow (until after they bump fuzzies) because she’s someone his mom would like, and his most compelling character trait is that he never does anything that would make his mom happy. Isn’t that romantic? I’ve always dreamed of marrying a man who still acts like a 13-year-old.
3. She’s a clever girl, which means she’s almost as smart as a man of average intelligence
I could have ignored the other things that irritated me about this book, but this one just pissed me off. Willow only really demonstrates her cleverness twice in the book (the rest of the time the author just tells you that she’s clever rather than showing you), and this is how it goes:
“His studio,” she said. “Not the easiest room to find, yet the killer found it without alerting the servants.” She paused. “He’d been there before.”
James watched her eyes light up. She loved this. Perhaps as much as he did. The clues and puzzles, the chase. And she was good; he couldn’t deny that. He’d come to the very same conclusion, had even written it in his notes yesterday.
“I noticed the same thing,” he said. “Quite clever, Willow.”
James nodded, curious to where she was going with this. Willow was clever and more than likely was coming to the same conclusion he’d already made. “Go on,” he encouraged her.
“Yes, well, I remembered that statement and then the box of photographs we found at Drummond’s house. It seems highly likely that among those images are some wealthy aristocratic ladies.”
And there she had done it. “I believe you might be right.”
“Really?” she asked, seeming surprised.
“I had already come to this conclusion, and am in the process of wading through those images trying to locate anyone I recognize.”
My reaction was pretty much:
Honestly… At the first “Wow, you’re pretty smart–you just figured out a concept that I understood instantly–that’s pretty smart–for a girl” mention, I was annoyed, and at the second one, I was angry-cat livid. What the hell. So I’m going back to reading a Julie Klassen book next (The Apothecary’s Daughter), because I want a book that isn’t going to make me angry.