The Chick: Leila Beaumont, nee Bridgeburton. When her husband is found poisoned, she's determined to find out who killed him - despite what a philandering jerk he was.
The Rub: She starts to regret her determination when the dangerously provocative Comte d'Esmond is hired to pursue the covert investigation.
Dream Casting: Kate Winslet.
The Dude: Ismal Delavin, a.k.a. Alexis Delavenne, Comte d'Esmond. He's used to fixing dirty jobs, and investigating Beaumont is one of the dirtiest, but the job's not without its' perks - like Beaumont's hot wife, Leila ...
The Rub: ... who turns out to be too distracting and nosy for comfort. Esmond's got secrets to hide - one in particular dealing with Leila's own troubled past.
Dream Casting: Cillian Murphy.
Leila: Oh no, my husband's been murdered! Not that I miss him.
Leila's Suspicious BFF: He was a bit of a Douchebag Supreme.
Leila's Suspicious Platonic Manfriend: Total dickwad.
Other Suspicious People: Couldn't have happened to a more deserving assface.
Esmond: Still, I'm going to have to solve this murder, if only to keep it from going public. We should start with some basic questioning.
Leila: Okay - what's your name? Where are you from? What's your favourite colour? Where did you go to school? Did you like it there? What are your hobbies?
Esmond: ... I mean questioning the suspects.
Leila: Well that's no fun.
Esmond: *sexy eyes*
Leila: Curse your distracting sexiness! We need to solve a case!
Leila: Now you have to answer my questions!
Esmond: Only if you answer this one, will you marry me?
Leila: Oh, alright.
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Very Bad Husband (Deceased)
1 Very Bad Dad (Less Recently Deceased)
Several Very Angry Husbands
1 Vulgar Stickpin
Oodles of Dark Secrets
1 Distinctive Perfume
The Word: Sorry for the wait, folks. I've spent the last week or so kind of distracted after reading The Children's Book, by AS Byatt - a huge-ass tome that spent a spectacularly long time making no point at all.
But now I'm back, and with a Loretta Chase novel, to boot. Captives of the Night was a lovely little find at a library booksale, a find that happens to have its roots in two separate Chase novels - The Lion's Daughter and Lord of Scoundrels.
Can you read Captives of the Night without reading those books? The short answer is yes - but you'll certainly enjoy a bigger understanding of Ismal's character if you manage to get your hands on Lion's Daughter first. In Daughter, Ismal was the enemy/heir-apparent of Ali Pasha, the tyrant of Albania. He spent most of the novel pulling fantastically evil stunts until he made the mistake of falling in obsessive love with that novel's heroine, Esme, only to have his ass royally handed to him by the combined forces of Esme, her father, and her husband Lord Edenmont.
Next, reading Lord of Scoundrels, I got my first look at the Comte d'Esmond, a minor character and distant acquaintance of the novel's hero, Lord Dain, who spent most of his brief time making eyes at the wife of another, skeezier acquaintance, Beaumont.
Reading Captives of the Night was when I discovered Ismal and Esmond are one and the same character. Older, wiser, and mostly reformed, Ismal now works under a different name for the British government, handling cases that require sophistication and discretion. One such case is the destruction of Beaumont, who has been running a dangerous Parisian blackmailing ring out of his gambling den known as Vingt-Huit. While Ismal succeeds at toppling Beaumont's empire, he finds himself dangerously attracted to the man's estranged wife, Leila.
The attraction is mutual, but Leila refuses to be unfaithful to her husband, however little she loves him. Unbeknownst to the world, Leila is the daughter of an English traitor who stole and sold English weapons to foreign powers. Ten years ago, Beaumont rescued her on the night her father was murdered. While she's long since dissuaded him (with violence) from her bed, she knows he won't hesitate to reveal her secret and ruin her if she embarks upon an affair of her own. She contents herself with the artistic career she's developed separate from her husband, and refuses to be a victim, although she still harbours certain body and sexual issues thanks to her husband's unkind manipulations.
After Beaumont loses his blackmail ring, he and Leila flee to England, but his situation only worsens until the day he's found murdered, a poison-laced bottle of laudanum at his side. Beaumont's trade in dark, dirty secrets means a public investigation is impossible, so, to Leila's discomfiture, Esmond is called in to discover who murdered Beaumont and why. A difficult task, as the list of suspects is long.
Even more difficult is the unwanted attraction between the two - Leila distrusts physical desire as her husband used to cover up his own inability to sexually satisfy her by claiming she had a freakishly insatiable lust. Esmond, meanwhile, has two previous novels' worth of sssssecretsssss that he has to hide from a woman who's a lot more perceptive than even she thinks she is.
Characterization-wise, this book is weaker than Loretta Chase's other novels, but still sound for all that. The only character who comes out as completely evil in this novel is Beaumont - even the novel's ultimate murderer gets a thoughtful and detailed rendering. Romance-wise, I felt the same way - it's good, a lot better than other romance novels I've read, but as I read it I kept discovering a sort of disconnect between the development of the romance and the interaction the characters actually have with each other.
Perhaps this is in part due to the novel's uneven pacing (particularly at the beginning where Esmond and Leila bounce around like angst-filled ping-pong balls before Beaumont bites it and they get together for reals). While I enjoyed how Leila and Esmond are fascinated/freaked out by the other's disquieting ability to see beyond their respective facades (Leila's discovery of Esmond's particular physical "tells" is quite funny), I felt Leila's burst of love for Esmond was underdeveloped at the start, since she doesn't really know him and what she does know isn't particularly wholesome. It didn't make a lot of sense until much later, when she really starts connecting the dots about Ismal's work.
As a character, Leila is unpredictable (which can be good, when she throws sudden and epically hilarious temper tantrums that involve destroying furniture and giving men concussions with warming pans), but she's also inconsistent. For instance, Leila worries so much about her sexuality and yet one brief post-coital conversation with Ismal cures her entirely. That didn't sit well with me.
I also felt Ismal played it a little too close to the vest. I do hate it when mysterious characters from previous books are suddenly open to explaining themselves in graphic detail, but I do want the protagonists of books to be developed and for the reader to be privy to their insecurities and feelings - and I only felt we got three-fourths of the way into Ismal's head in Captives of the Night, which is a shame.
Otherwise, though, Captives of the Night is a solid romance novel with a better-than-average mystery.