Beyond Scandal

Captive

The Conqueror

The Finer Things

Outlaw Love

Perfect Secrets

The Rival

Splendor

The Third Heiress

 
Deadly Pleasure by Brenda Joyce
(St. Martins, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97768-9
***
As I imagine most readers know, Deadly Pleasure is not a romance. Rather it is the second installment in what I assume is a planned series of historical mysteries by romance author Brenda Joyce. The setting is interesting: New York at the turn of the 20th century. The premise might be interesting: a young woman from the city’s upper crust turns to crime investigation and thus gets to know the handsome new police commissioner. However, this book (and I must assume its predecessor Deadly Love which I have not read) suffers from one significant flaw: the heroine.

Francesca Cahill is simply unbelievable as a “Crime-Solver Extraordinaire,” however she may choose to style herself. Francesca is the twenty-year old daughter of a New York socialite and a very successful businessman. She chafes against her parents’ expectations that she will marry well and take her place among the “upper four hundred.” We are told that she is extremely intelligent; indeed, she is secretly pursuing a degree at Barnard College. Unfortunately, the character in the book rarely displays much intelligence at all.

Apparently in the first book, Francesca stumbled into a nasty kidnapping and played some significant role in solving the crime. She also got to know the handsome police commissioner, Rick Bragg and the two shared a passionate kiss. After this first foray into detection, Francesca decides that she has a gift for this kind of stuff. So what does she do? She goes to Tiffany’s and orders a set of cards that read Francesca Cahill, Crime-Solver Extraordinaire...All Cases Accepted, No Crime Too Small and proceeds to hand them out to passers by.

Her efforts bear immediate fruit. As she leaves a party given by the notorious Stanford White, she is accosted by a distraught woman who passes her a note asking her to come immediately to 28 West 24th Street. Francesca sneaks out of her house, hails a cab, does show the good sense to take along a young urchin who she met during her previous adventure, and arrives at the home of Miss Georgette de Labouche.

There Fran soon discovers what her client wants. Lying on the sitting room floor is the body of one Paul Randall. It seems that while Miss de Labouche was awaiting her lover upstairs in her bath, someone sneaked into the house and shot him. Georgette wants Francesca to get rid of the body; she just knows she will be blamed.

Francesca demonstrates enough sense to send her assistant for the police, but while she awaits their arrival, Georgette disappears and someone else enters the house. accompanying the patrolman (or roundman as they were called) is none other than Commissioner Bragg. He is understandably perturbed to find Francesca already on the scene and orders her to desist from any further meddling in the case. But Francesca is not to be deterred and proceeds to investigate who killed Paul Randall.

As noted above, Francesca as a detective just isn’t believable. She does manage to ferret out some facts about the victim and the possible motives and in the end, she does unmask the guilty party. Well, it had to be this way; she’s the heroine. But I found her actions and activities so very unlikely. She comes across more as lucky than as astute.

Yet I still rate Deadly Pleasure as “acceptable.” Why? Well, not because of the mystery but rather because, talented author that she is, Joyce caught me up in the characters. Especially interesting is Calder Hart, Rick Bragg’s half-brother and the illegitimate son of the victim. (The family relationships are complex, to say the least.) I also was taken by the marital problems of Francesca’s older sister, Connie and her British lord of a husband. And, I must admit that the ongoing relationship between Bragg and Francesca piqued my interest.

Also, Joyce includes enough interesting tidbits about New York in 1902 to create an interesting setting. Both the descriptions of high life and low life are well done.

So I find myself in an interesting dilemma. I cannot really recommend Deadly Pleasure but I have a sneaky suspicion that I will be picking up Deadly Affairs when it comes out in April. If only Francesca had been a better character, I probably would feel much different about this book.

--Jean Mason


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