Beauty in Black is part of the Hill/Sinclair stories and the main character is John Sinclair, the older brother of the hero in Dear Imposter. The heroine is the widow for the Merry Widow series. While the visits with the previous characters are nice, this story has a great beginning and a decent ending, but a long stretch in the middle that seems longer by the lack of real action in the story. It is ultimately enjoyable but does not appear to live up to the many rave reviews of the previous stories.
Marianne Hughes has been widowed for a little over a year, and is living on a comfortable inheritance from her husband, a man who was a good man but a weak man. She sees no real reason to marry again, and doesn’t really plan to do so. She agrees to serve as chaperone to her young niece for her season. Louisa Crookshank is a beauty, but is immature, often self-centered and a chatterbox. She is recuperating from what she considers a devastating loss of her beau from the village where she lived. He told her she was self-centered when she failed to realize he had hurt himself when they were playing around, and he left for London without a by-your-leave. Thinking they were in love, this crushed Louisa’s heart and she sets out to prove she is not selfish.
They meet the mysterious John Sinclair, Marquess of Gillingham. John has never been to London, and has scars as a result of smallpox. His father, like many fathers of this time period, was a man who demanded perfection and left John with a rundown estate, an estranged brother and less than good feelings about his abilities. John has decided he must marry and comes to London, only to discover that all the older men he counted on for introductions are either dead or in ill health. So he must ask help from his younger brother who he hates because their mother seemed to love him best.
Upon meeting Louisa, John decides to just get things over with and try to find a young miss who will agree to marry quickly. Yet he finds himself attracted to the slightly older and more mature Marianne. A series of events however, leads Louisa to assume he has asked for her hand and she, in her bountiful role, agrees. After all, he is marked. Louisa decides her agreement shows she does care about others.
The beginning is written in a fast-paced fashion and the reader is immediately pulled in by John’s sincere belief that he is ugly, Marianne’s belief that she is on the shelf, and their burgeoning attraction. Both John and Marianne are well-developed characters and by the end, their reasons for their beliefs are clear and understandable. They show depth and growth in character. The entanglement with Louisa gives them both reasons to spend time together and for their love to blossom. Louisa is a more uneven character, at times immature and impetuous and at other times, showing signs of maturity. She is clearly meant to be a standard Regency beauty whose head is full of gowns, balls, galas and gallant gentlemen.
However, the story bogs down when there is no real action to sustain the story. There is some unnamed menace that appears to be threatening Louisa. There is the struggle between the two brothers. There are Louisa’s continued run-ins with her previous beau, which the reader can immediately figure out will play a role in the resolution. The mundane interactions involved housekeeping and gardening…nothing to get the blood up or even to write home about. While well-written and entertaining at times, there was nothing really pulling me back if I put the book down.
Towards the end, as the reader can see the hoped for resolution for all the romances and for the two brothers, the pace picks up somewhat. All of the issues were brought to an acceptable conclusion except for the inane plot line about the danger. It was pretty far fetched and obviously just put in the story to provide some reasons for the people to pull together. The romances were very satisfactory and the happiness well deserved.
Overall, Beauty in Black started off strong and ended well. The charm of previous stories is evident, but the intrigue leaves much to be desired. If the reader can dodge the middle or doesn’t mind the slower pace, the story is ultimately pleasurable