Mistress (Amanda Quick)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Quick and entertaining dialogue as well as plentiful character development and interaction still can’t save this book from many of its shortcomings: a mystery/blackmail side plot that is far too predictable and characters who are too larger-than-life to feel believable or allow for empathy.  The premise is interesting — you have a quiet country miss who is purposefully masquerading as a widow and paramour of an infamous earl in order to investigate and root out a blackmailer threatening her aunt’s happiness. She’s an intelligent antiquities specialist, and he’s usually devoted to his more scientific pursuits (fashioning a hydraulic pen, astronomy), but it’s one of those novels where they’re intelligent except when interacting with one another.  They make assumptions, have misunderstandings, et cetera. It’s a very quick and light read, and made for a pleasant few hours, but it’s hard for this to be more than a barely recommend considering the amount of good, solid historical romance out there, some of it by Quick!

Greater Detail:
Iphiginia Bright (try saying that quickly three times) has lived a quiet country life for most of her twenty-six years.  Her parents were artists who left them genteelly impoverished, but through her own ingenuity/entrepreneurial spirit, she started first a school for girls, and then an investment pool (recruiting other widows, spinsters, etc), all of which has given her financial stability and independence.  After she settled a comfortable dowry on her younger sister, she traveled to Italy and Greece to study antiquities and enjoy life.  Now, upon her return, she finds that her aunt is being blackmailed by a man who claims to have already murdered Marcus, Earl of Masters, for lack of payment.  Believing that the only way to uncover the identity of the blackmailer is to find out who would possibly have been in a position to know the secrets of both her aunt and the deceased earl, Iphiginia decides to masquerade as the deceased earl’s paramour, and introduce herself to all of his former friends.

Except of course that the earl isn’t dead, merely rusticating in the country, studying astronomy.  When gossip reaches him about his new mistress (one he knows he doesn’t have) making waves in London, he decides to come back and investigate.

(whew… now we’ve covered about 1.5 chapters in this book)

This is one of those kind of fluffy reads where everyone is either going to be paired up by the final chapter (you can actually see all the side characters starting to couple up) or end up being the secret villain (it’s fairly obvious from early on who the blackmailer is).  So there aren’t really any surprises here — which means that you’re left with more romance than mystery (which is fine, I read it for the romance part anyhow)… except even there, it’s a little lacking.  Iphiginia has studied Marcus and began to fall in love with him even when she thought he was dead… so her part of the romance has really happened before the story ever starts, which leaves Marcus, who is portrayed as this larger than life man: he started as a farmer who eventually inherited an earldom.  He raised his younger brother (just as Iphiginia raised her young sister), he’s been married and widowed, and there’s quite a bit of scandal in his past (whispers that he murdered his former business partner, that he had an affair with that man’s wife, etc.). Everything is explained away and resolved just a little too neatly at the end.

It was a super quick and light read (so much of it is dialogue between the two main characters) and it’s definitely one of those books where all of the side personalities remain distinctly one-note, but otherwise, it’s kind of harmlessly entertaining.  It’s well-written enough to get the three stars, but I think there’s better stuff out there.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
“Jam-packed with plot” should be Quick’s middle name (she also publishes under Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle depending on if she’s doing historical/Quick, contemporary/Krentz or futuristic/Castle). Quick’s novels tend to have kind of exaggerated stereotypes (men who are handsome and daring, live outside of society’s rules and are just, in every manner and way, a cut above the rest) and fast-paced plotting (our heroes are always investigating something, going somewhere, action, action, sex, action) that could easily be a made-for-tv-movie somewhere.  Her pacing is very fast, her characters tend to spend a bit of time saying things like “bloody hell” and going places like “Dr. Hardstaff’s Museum of the Goddess of Manly Vigor”, but it’s all tongue-in-cheek fun.  The mystery/intrigue side plots are similar to what Stephanie Laurens does,  with the main difference being that Quick tends to weave the bad guys into the plot (sometimes they even get their own scenes), whereas Laurens’s villains are just as often someone completely new.

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