|One Touch of Scandal is the first of a new trilogy encompassing paranormal and suspense elements along with a Victorian-set romance. I had the sensation of walking into a play during the second act and not knowing what the heck the first act was about. This book was work, and in the end, not completely worth the effort.
Grace Gauthier, gently born but now orphaned, has been working as a governess in the home of Ethan Holding, a widowed shipping owner. Grace and Ethan were secretly engaged, but everything changes one evening when Grace finds Ethan murdered. Royden Napier, a high-ranking assistant police commissioner, believes Grace did it. Desperate for help, Grace goes to a secretive gentlemen’s club, the St. James Society, looking for a friend of her late father’s. The friend is out of town. Instead, she meets Adrian Forsythe, Lord Ruthveyn.
Son of an English father and an Indian mother, Ruthveyn was raised in Calcutta. He possesses a psychic Gift; he sees visions of peoples’ futures when he touches them. Grace, however, he cannot “read. Intrigued, Ruthveyn decides to help her. Besides, he has a past with Napier and knows how ruthless the man can be. And Grace is charming and lovely. The stage is set for their romance.
Except it takes a long time to get going, and in between are what felt like endless pages of exposition. Adrian isn’t the only man with a “gift” – he’s part of a small group who call themselves the Fraternitas Aureae Crucis. Maybe I’ve read one too many series featuring darkly handsome war heroes who have banded together in some sort of secret society, but this setup felt stale from the get-go. They all have mysterious pasts, yadda, yadda, and information on this bunch is dribbled out in fits and starts. Included are aspects of Indian mysticism, Tantric sex, a sect of sorts called the Guardians, Druids, and a host of other elements that will probably feature in the next two books. This overwhelmed the romance, which felt shallow at best.
It didn’t help that Grace, while presented as charming and lively, is no brain trust. When Ruthveyn quizzes her on how she found the body, she tells him that Ethan put a note under her door late at night asking her to meet him in the library. Grace muses that the note didn’t sound like him, but she doesn’t make the tiny leap of logic that duh, maybe he didn’t write it and somebody tried to set her up. Ruthveyn sees that someone is trying to frame Grace, and the whodunit element figures strongly.
Ruthveyn isn’t a bad sort. He at least has a few brain cells to spare, and his protectiveness toward Grace is sweet and endearing. The plot point of “she’s the only one who doesn’t affect me” has been done before, many times, so it’s a bit shopworn here. And I could have lived without the Tantric sex aspect – it felt forced, as though perhaps the main reason Ruthveyn was half-Indian was to give the author a chance to include it.
Part paranormal, part murder mystery, and part romance, One Touch of Scandal could be considered an interesting experiment, or a jump-on-the-bandwagon novel with every trendy plot point of the moment. In the end, it left me tired and unsatisfied.