Originally published in July 2004, on my original 52 Books blog.
Year published: 2003
Genre: Romance, historical (Regency period)
Where got: Public library
Christian is a hero to die for: handsome, charming, witty and talented, with a self-depreciating sense of humour and oodles of sex appeal.
Abigail is a bit harder to figure out - until you discover what drives her and why she is so repressed.
The secondary characters are unfortunately flat - pretty much the standard usual suspects found in many mysteries. But they don’t really matter that much, they are just there to provide suspects in the haunting, which, while an important plot element in bringing together the hero and heroine, nevertheless takes second stage to the love story.
Former lady’s companion Abigail Parkinson has inherited a country mansion that she doesn’t want, but the sale of which will bring her financial independence and enable her to buy the small cottage she has always dreamed of. But a ghost - which she herself has never seen - is driving away prospective buyers, so she writes a letter asking the assistance of Christian Reade, Viscount Moreland, who has a reputation as a “ghost router” because he once uncovered a false haunting.
Christian is loath to come to her aid, having been inundated with such requests, mostly from mothers of eligible ladies or the ladies themselves, bent on entrapping him into marriage because of his money and title. His grandfather insists that he go, and so Christian sets out to Sibel Hall, fully expecting to find another marriage-mad lady waiting for him. Arriving there, he is coolly received by Abigail, whose stern manners and dowdy appearance makes him nickname her “The Governess”. Also at the Hall are her three cousins, who seem to have the remarkable ability to always be in the way whenever he wants to be alone with Abigail.
In spite of her stern and dowdy outer appearance, Christian is quite taken with Abigail, who has a heady scent of lilacs about her which drives him to distraction. Also, he can see that underneath the governess guise there is a beautiful and interesting woman who becomes more and more attractive to him as the days pass.
As Christian conducts his investigation into the haunting, he and Abigail begin to fall in love, neither being much inclined to admit it to themselves and certainly not to each other. Christian suspects that there is a person behind the haunting, and that it is connected to a treasure that is supposed to be hidden somewhere in the house or grounds. But proving it and catching the perpetrator is going to be hard work, especially when all he wants to do is win the heart of the delectable Abigail.
Technique and plot:
The book is well written and funny, with sparkling dialogue, a gripping mystery and a believable development of the relationship between hero and heroine. The house Abigail has inherited is large, gloomy and mysterious and full of hidden passages and walled-off rooms, just the sort of place you would believe to be haunted. The plot suffers somewhat from scenes that could have been left out of a non-romantic mystery - specifically the wine cellar, the priest’s escape and the lover’s tunnel episodes. They slow down the action, but are nevertheless necessary for the development of the romance. I just wish Simmons had made them shorter and more to the point.
A delightful Regency romp, a satisfying love story and a mystery with an interesting twist. 4- stars.