Beyond Scandal


The Conqueror

Deadly Pleasure

The Finer Things

Outlaw Love

Perfect Secrets

The Rival


The Third Heiress

Deadly Affairs by Brenda Joyce
(St. Martin’s, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-312-98262-3
I sort of volunteered to review Brenda Joyce’s third installment of her “Francesca Cahill Mysteries.” At the end of my review of Deadly Pleasure, I indicated my curiosity about what would happen to the characters the author had created. Hence, my editor kindly sent me Deadly Affairs. I sort of wish she hadn’t.

In my previous review, I noted that I found the heroine, Miss Francesca Cahill and her actions highly improbable. Francesca is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist and an unwilling member of high society. She got involved in a kidnapping and helped solved the crime in the first book in the series. Her success convinced her that she had a talent for crime solving, so she printed up business cards, and set herself up as a private detective. She then got mixed up in another murder and succeeded in identifying the culprit.

Her excursions into crime-solving brought her into contact with the handsome new Police Commissioner, Rick Bragg. The two were attracted to each other and Francesca found herself falling in love. Then, at the end of Deadly Pleasure, Francesca discovers that Rick is married, but separated from his unfaithful wife.

To add to the mix, Rick’s rakish and wealthy half-brother, Calder Hart, has befriended Francesca and is clearly attracted to her. Then there is her unhappily married sister and her unhappily betrothed brother and their affairs to consider. All this, and murder too.

Once again, Francesca is at the right place at the right time to become involved in a crime. Spying for a new client on a possible errant husband, she discovers the body of a woman and learns that she is the second victim of a killer who leaves an unmistakable trademark. So, to Bragg’s dismay, she decides to help discover the murderer.

I have to admit that I am not too impressed with Francesca’s crime-solving abilities. They seem less a result of her intelligence and more because she just happens to know the right people and can manage to put two and two together. There is an element of happenstance in Joyce’s plots that a true mystery buff would find unacceptable.

I also find it unlikely that an upper class young woman would be able to act as Francesca does throughout the book. Women of her status and wealth simply did not have the kind of freedom that she exhibits. However doting her father, her proper mother would have put an end to her excursions to the darker side of New York.

The strength of Joyce’s books lies not in the mystery but rather in her recreation of New York at the turn of the century and her characters. However, it is one of her characters who leads me to my less than enthusiastic response to Deadly Affairs. I just don’t like Francesca. I know she’s supposed to be unconventional and brave and intelligent, but she comes across to me as simply immature. Which, given her age - 22 - is perhaps not surprising. But I have a feeling that the author did not intend her heroine to appear flighty and foolish.

Joyce manages to end Deadly Affairs as she did Deadly Pleasure, not with a resolution of all the personal relationships she has created but rather with further complications. And yes, I admit to a curiosity about what will happen. Will Francesca’s brother and his fiancee work out their problems? Will Francesca’s sister find her way back to a happy marriage? Will Rick Bragg really give up his political ambitions and divorce his wife? Will Calder continue to pursue Francesca? Will Francesca choose Ranger or Morelli? No wait, that’s another female crime solver!

There is no indication in the back of the advanced reading copy of Deadly Affairs that another “Francesca Cahill Mystery” is on its way. Should one appear, I do plan to assuage my curiosity. However, I plan to do so by skimming the book in the aisle of my bookstore, not by spending several hours in Francesca’s company. I just find her too annoying.

--Jean Mason

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