The Captain's Lady

Let Me Be the One

More Than You Wished

My Reckless Heart

Tempting Torment

With All My Heart

Everything I Ever Wanted
by Jo Goodman
(Zebra, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6868-9
Like a dinner prepared by a master chef, this book is subtle, complex, and finely balanced, each detail building on the one before it to create a complete and very satisfying meal.

One night at Drury Lane, while in the company of the other members of the Compass Club (the Marquess of Eastlyn, the Earl of Northam and Mr. Evan Marchman, known to his friends as West), The Viscount Southerton draws himself to the attention of the lead actress, India Parr. The incident is not the gaffe it seems. South, like his directional friends, is an undercover agent working for one Colonel Blackwood.

South is investigating a murder and the victim is linked to India. What, exactly, the connection is, South does not know but the possibilities range from mere coincidence to the possibility that India is actually the killer. It is Southís job to discover the truth.

Believe it or not, to tell you much more would be a serious disservice to the beautifully crafted feast Ms. Goodman sets before us. She does not, for example, jam forty pages of back story into the front of the book; this refreshingly understated tale unfolds gradually. She serves us one tantalizing morsel after the next to whet our appetites, gradually building to more substantial portions as the pace and the readerís greed for information increase.

It is subtle and compelling storytelling and, while the tempo is (in the beginning at least) on the stately side, I read every word. I didnít skim sentences or paragraphs and I didnít skip ahead because every detail was interesting and felt as though it must be important - even if I didnít understand its significance at the moment.

India is equally complicated. Smart and likable, she is a woman with many secrets. Although her spirit and integrity are clear from the beginning, Ms. Goodman reveals this character slowly, gently peeling away layer after layer as South earns her trust and pieces together the intricacies of her past. I was intrigued, but at no point was I ever worried that the results might be disappointing - and the author did not let me down.

South is less ambiguous, but thatís not a bad thing. With so much shifting ground underfoot, the reader needs something solid to hold onto and South is definitely our man. His difficulty, and romantic dilemma, is to reconcile his growing feelings for India with his duty to the murder investigation. As the body count grows, it becomes clearer and clearer that India is connected - but how?

South never allows himself to be drawn off track about anything important, and the intelligence, consistency and honesty of both South and India as they work through the mystery with increasing urgency were among the many great pleasures of this book. Another was its ability to surprise. The things I was able to figure out lulled me into complacency - which made it all the more entertaining to have some of my assumptions overturned. Ms. Goodman never deliberately misleads, but she never tells us more than we need to know at any given moment.

The result is an absorbing story and a romance that is mature, involving and believable as well as satisfyingly passionate.

Right at the end, someone lost their nerve. Whether it was the author or someone else in the food chain Iíll probably never know, but there are a few pages of very straightforward exposition just to make sure there were no loose ends. It was a small disappointment for me but some readers might find it reassuring.

This fare will not be to everyoneís taste, moreís the pity. If you prefer your romance on the rambunctious side, full of broad humor and/or characters whose motivations can be seen a mile off, this book is probably not for you. If, however, you are tired of the trite, weary of being bludgeoned by the glaringly obvious and bored with unsubtle ďromanceĒ that is expressed more in the rigidity of various body parts than by the emotions and actions of the characters, then I suspect you will devour this book with pleasure.

-- Judi McKee

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