Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Three Little Secrets," by Liz Carlyle

Alternative Title: The Accidental Husband

The Chick: Madeleine, Lady Besset. A wealthy widow, she moves to Walham Green, a village on the outskirts of London, thinking a change of scenery might prove beneficial to her troubled twelve-year-old son.
The Rub: Turns out her new house - the entire village, even - is owned by none other than Merrick MacLachlan, the scoundrel her father bribed to annul their hasty marriage 13 years ago. So why does he insist they're still married?
Dream Casting: Reese Witherspoon.

The Dude: Merrick MacLachlan. A tough but fair real estate developer, he gets the shock of his life when his faithless, runaway wife moves into one of his new houses.
The Rub: He's spent thirteen years trying to forget the woman who abandoned him, to no avail. Even after all this time, he still pines for her - the cowardly, adulterous bitch!
Dream Casting: Patrick Dempsey.

The Plot:

Merrick: Howdy neighbour - wha? You're my WIFE!

Madeleine: We're not married!

Merrick: Oh, we are TOTALLY married.

Madeleine: Nu-uh!

Merrick: Uh-huh!

Madeleine: Nu-uh times a THOUSAND.

Merrick: I have proof!

Madeleine: Nu-uh!

Merrick: Uh-huh times INFINITY! I have the papers right here...

Madeleine: *fingers in ears* I CAN'T HEAR YOUUUUUUU, LA LA LA....

Geoff, Madeleine's Son: Oh, don't mind me and my troublesome psychic visions of Scottish origin. I'll just take my twelve-year-old-self (feel free to count back the months, Merrick) somewhere else.

Madeleine: Whoops.

Merrick: Oh, it's ON, wifey.

Madeleine: Fine, we can stay married.

Merrick: Hooray! ... I think.

Romance Convention Checklist
1 Hard-Hearted Businessman Hero

1 Widowed Single Mum Heroine

1 Foiled Elopement

1 Regency-Era Dominatrix

Several Accidental Adulteries

Several Quite Purposeful Adulteries

1 Secret Psychic Baby

1 Noticeable But Still Sexy Facial Scar

1 Noticeable Limp

1 Very Bad Parent

1 Drunken Suicide

1 Big Misunderstanding

The Word: I was pretty excited to read this, because I read Carlyle's Never Deceive a Duke, which was quite good, but I have to say, the squabbling protagonists (the shrill, whining heroine in particular) and the contrived continuation of a Big Misunderstanding really bogged down what could have been an interesting read.

Once upon a time, when Merrick and Madeleine were Crazy In Love Youths, they eloped to Scotland but were caught after the fact by Madeleine's politically-minded father.

Thirteen years later, Madeleine is a widow with a young son who has a Vague Troubling Disorder but since he won't tell his mummy why he goes blank-eyed at odd times and starts predicting things before they happen, she can't do anything about it. She purchases a lovely little cottage in a village suburb of London thinking she might be able to find some help for his condition in a new place.

By this time, Merrick has also matured into one of those domineering, time-is-money, whore mongering, hard-hearted billionaire businessmen types who transcend time period and Harlequin SuperRomance lines. One of his buddies from a previous book in the series (Two Little Lies) wants to buy a house in his new development, so Merrick decides to show him a completed example - which turns out to be the one Madeleine's just purchased.

Their reunion isn't a chipper one. Madeleine's father told her that Merrick had annulled their marriage in return for thirty thousand pounds, so, heartbroken (among other things), she married a man her father chose for her and went off to the Continent. Merrick, however, never agreed to or received any payment beyond a royal ass-whupping by her father before the gangsta ran over him with his carriage (ouch!). By the time he'd recovered, Madeleine had already left England with another man, leaving him to curse his wife for the faithless wench she was.

Okay, so we have the Big Misunderstanding. Both protagonists believe the other is at fault for how their marriage turned out. However, this misunderstanding is cleared up by page 85 - or at least, both protagonists learn the other's story. So - this means the Big Mis is finished, right? We can go back to having the protagonists communicate like adults?

Nope. Madeleine stubbornly denies, denies, denies everything Merrick says, and continues to rail and shriek and harp at him throughout the book. Yes, the Big Mis gets dragged out all the way to the end of the novel because the heroine flat-out refuses to confront the subject because it's too painful. Yes - discovering the truth is so painful, it's much easier and less morally ambiguous to treat a man like shit and believe the worst of him without any tangible proof.

As the really, really obvious evidence that Merrick is telling the truth piles up - some of which Madeleine should already know (such as how annullments work and that her political father had political motivations to keep her from Merrick), it makes the heroine's actions look both selfish and stupid. Carlyle actually turns the results of their elopement into a bit of mystery, which is both unnecessary and boring since we already know what's happened.

Their squabbling gets old really fast, and they continue it for most of the book. It's not wry ribbing or witty banter, but vicious, intentionally hurtful bitching. Their spiteful catfighting continues for the better part of the book, and this is what ultimately hinders the romance. There isn't a real build-up or resurgence of romantic feeling - it's just Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, Bitch, Bitch - oh, we were tricked? Okay then. Luuuurv. It's recycled love - once the Big Mis finally peters out, they just revert to how they felt before, rather than any new feelings they might have developed knowing each other as adults.

But hey, take away the Big Mis (which was stretched out way past its welcome thanks to the heroine) and everything's just fine and dandy, right?

As you may have guessed by now, I hate the heroine. She's kind of a bitch. No, she's worse: a shrew. With more than one book I've discovered I tend to think bitchy heroines are awesome. But a shrew, in my mind, is a woman who is all bark and no bite. Instead of actually backing anything up or taking action, Madeleine just sits on her ass and throws insults at Merrick, or else coos helpless motherisms at her son without actually helping him. She's definitely a pupil of the "Oh, you heartless fiend!" school of dialogue, complete with the requisite "traitorous body" that melts like lustful margarine in a microwave at the merest flutter of the hero's eyelashes.

As well, the historical setting is disappointingly vague. No dates are given, no specific fashions are mentioned, gaslights are noted once in passing, and only a mention of Queen Adelaide (wife to William the 4th, he who reigned between George 4 and Victoria) gives us any real indication. With all the talk of Merrick's development company, work ethic and business discussions, it all seemed a bit too modern to me, which gave this novel the taint of a wallpaper historical.

When it all comes down to it though - a major reason why this book didn't work for me is become I'd already read a wonderful book - actually, a novella - that had the exact same plot but managed it so much better in every respect. In Mary Balogh's "Spellbound," from the It Happened One Night anthology, we also have a hero and heroine who reunite a decade after their elopement was botched by an angry father. Again, both protagonists believe the other responsible. However, in the shorter format of a novella, the misunderstanding was confronted and solved in realistic amount of time, but the characters' shared pain and longing still came through. Really, at nearly every point in Three Little Secrets I ended up comparing it to "Spellbound," usually unfavourably.

However, despite my annoyances with this novel, it wasn't strictly bad. Other than the aforementioned harping and bitching, the writing was serviceable. The secondary characters were all well-drawn, and the characters from previous series keep their Prequel Baggage to themselves and contribute to the current storyline.For all my problems with Merrick and Madeleine, there was enough character development and backstory to motivate their pain and their actions, even if I thought Madeleine was irritatingly passive. I still have Tempted All Night on my TBR, so I won't give up on Liz Carlyle yet.


  1. Hmm. I sense this heroine would drive me nutter butter! :)

  2. Estelle10:42 AM

    Ah, I gave up on Carlyle for a few years after reading this one. She'd disappointed me several times before and this was the last straw.

    It's funny though because in my mind, I hated the hero more than the heroine for some reason. Can't remember why.

    I picked up the latest Carlyle a few weeks ago (my first in years) and I only enjoyed it because I skimmed all the repetitive passages in the last third of the book.

    I think she's not for me.

  3. melts like lustful margarine in a microwave


    I'm adoring your reviews, esp. the abbreviated plot summaries.

    Carlyle is a bit hit or miss with me. I read this one a while back and don't recall having the specific issues you did-- I just thought the psychic son bit was kind of dumb. I kind of liked the details about the architectural development, tho have no sense of whether they were historically appropriate or not.

  4. lol - your generous with a book it sounds like you didn't really enjoy all that much. Liz Carlyle was an autobuy author up until this book, but I couldn't get very far in this one at all and I haven't read her since. Mind you, I've still been buying her books since this blip book - but I haven't read them yet *g*.
    So I say stick with her - she really is good.
    And I had to laugh at the 'accidental' and purposeful adulteries. Since I didn't get far into this book, how did they happen?

  5. Janicu --> Well, she certain did drive me a little nuts. Every other second she's saying "no", refusing something, denying something else. Completely negative. Drove me a bit nuts.

    Estelle --> the hero does say that since their still married, that he can take his son wherever he wants and that he has to right to have sex with his wife whenever he wants. Maybe that's why. Still - other Carlyle books haven't been that bad and she's gotten quite a bit of good reviews so I won't give up on her just yet.

    Nicola O --> Surprisingly enough, I wasn't that bothered with the psychic son, although in hindsight it was solved so neatly I wondered why they just didn't give him a regular troubling disorder within the boundaries of reality.

    Kristie J --> I realy enjoyed Never Deceive a Duke, it's still on my keeper shelf. As for the adulteries - the accidental ones were Maddie's, because she didn't know she was still married when she went off with another dude. The purposeful ones were Merrick's, because he hired prostitutes. Lots and lots of prostitutes. Always at the same time, on the same day, under the lame excuse that he "has needs." You don't "need" sex twice a week, dude. Ask a Catholic priest or two, why don't ya?

  6. Estelle11:07 AM

    The purposeful ones were Merrick's, because he hired prostitutes. Lots and lots of prostitutes. Always at the same time, on the same day, under the lame excuse that he "has needs." You don't "need" sex twice a week, dude. Ask a Catholic priest or two, why don't ya?

    Actually, I think that was one of the reasons I couldn't stand the hero now that I remember the book a bit better. I remember thinking he was an hypocritical bastard. He couldn't stand his wife and called her names ("cold bitch" or something other. Carlyle is very fond of the "cold bitch" thing when it comes to heroes thinking about their heroines) but he'd been boinking prostitutes left and right (knowing perfectly well he was still married) and was no choirboy either.

    I wasn't too fond of the heroine either but the hero took the cake.