'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick
Published by Penguin
Publication Date: April 19th 2016
Genres: Romance, Historical
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The author of the New York Times bestseller Garden of Lies returns to Victorian London in an all-new novel of deadly obsession.
Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—a black mirror, a funeral wreath, a ring set with black jet stone. Each is engraved with her initials.
Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels. Believing that Calista may be taking advantage of his lonely sister, who has become one of her clients, Trent doesn’t trust her. Scarred by his past, he’s learned to keep his emotions at bay, even as an instant attraction threatens his resolve. But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker...
I’ve never been a huge historical romance reader, but I did steadily read them until about 1.5 years ago when I simply lost all interest. I haven’t read a historical since then. Well, alert the press because I broke my historical drought with ‘Til Death Do Us Part, and I have zero regrets. I had a blast with this one!
Calista Langley is essentially a professional matchmaker, though she explains it as being in the business of “introductions” for paying clients. She holds regular salons where she introduces carefully selected and vetted ladies and gentlemen of quality, and in doing so she makes a decent living to support her and her brother. Trent Hastings is a famous author and the brother of one of her clients, and he visits her out of concern she may be fleecing his sister and setting her up for marriage with a fortune hunter. Calista pretty quickly sets him in his place, and he’s fascinated by her. When he later learns she’s receiving disturbing and frightening gifts from an unknown party, he offers to help her investigate as a form of “research” for the detective novels he writes. Trent, Calista, and both their siblings start to follow the trail, and it leads to murder, madness, and, of course, lots of time together for Trent and Calista.
I totally enjoyed the plot of this book. It’s a good old fashioned mystery, and the Victorian setting, fascinated as they were with death, was just perfect. The gifts Calista has been receiving are all objects made to commemorate or accessorize the dead, such as a tear catcher, a coffin bell, etc, which makes them exceptionally creepy. There may be scenes in a macabre funeral parlor and some murders, but this isn’t a horror–it’s more Sherlock Holmes meets lighter gothic romance. There were lots of twists and turns and layers of villains that kept things interesting all the way through. Yes, it’s a little dramatic, but it’s not cartoonish. There’s a lot of subtle humor too, such as the star treatment Trent gets when people find out he writes a popular detective series or the fact that all the men dislike his new female detective character while the women love her. It’s clever without being too wink wink at the audience.
You can also feel the stirrings of modernity popping up in Victorian England. Calista and some of the other women (and men) in the book are realizing that often marriage is a pretty raw deal for women and that the deck is firmly stacked against unmarried women, too. But, Calista is very aware that she has more opportunities than women before her had, because she is able to operate a business and support herself. She’s smart, practical, and knows what she wants, and I really loved her character. We also see some other Victorian innovations, such as the study of psychology, advances in investigatory techniques, new laws allowing women to own property, and more. The historical details were interesting and made my geeky heart happy.
The book is not without some issues. Some of the dialog feels a little unnatural, and there are some periods of inaction where the pace dragged. Unfortunately, I thought the romance lost out to the mystery. There just wasn’t as much time spent on character development as I would have liked. We find out about stuff that happened to Calista and Trent, but I still didn’t get a great sense of who they were separately or together. I felt like the chemistry between them started out promising, but then it’s not given enough time to properly grow so that when they’re suddenly going at it in the library (according to historical romances, I assume 75% of sex in the past must have taken place in the library), I was not particularly interested. Both these characters had some heavy backstories and had plenty of room for more emotional connections. I thought they were compatible, but not given enough page space to develop.
Regardless, I really liked this book. I debated on the grade for a long time because it does have some issues, and yet it was just plain fun for me. For some reason I never even thought about reading historical romantic suspense! Now I will be on the hunt for some more. (If you have suggestions, post them here please!)
Grade: 3.5 out of 5