I don’t often find myself bored with an historical romance, but Lynn Kerstan’s newest story left me with that feeling. The Golden Leopard may appeal to some, but it left me dissatisfied.
Hugo Duran has lived in India most of his life, son of an employee of the East India Company. His father was mistreated by the company and died in the foreign land. Duran, as he is called, grew to be a reprobate and gambler and vowed to disrupt the company as much as possible. During his travels, a Nizam (ruler) of a tiny principality captures him, convicts him of being a spy and sentences him to die. Then he decides to send Duran on a search for an icon he believes was stolen by another Englishman - a golden leopard statue. This statue is believed to hold special powers to the Nizam.
Duran sets out on this quest accompanied by a slew of guards called the Others and two trained assassins, Shivaji and his son Arjuna. Shivaji has been paid to kill Duran once he has recovered the icon, or if not, at the end of a year.
Duran returns to England and seeks out a friend from the past who has made a name for herself in antiquities. She is Lady Jessica Carville, a spinster who has pursued a career in the business of selling antiques, and has recently been hired by Christie’s auction house. But their past is more than just friendship. When Lady Jessica was a young debutante and Duran was spending a year in England, she took Duran to her bed and they were lovers for about three months. Jessica refused to marry, so Duran left to return to India. They apparently were very discreet as no scandal followed Jessica.
The story is the search for the icon, mixed in with how Duran and Jessica resolve their unfinished relationship. There are several subplots thrown in. One is the story of Jessica’s sister, Mariah, and her abusive, gambling-debt ridden husband and their unhappy marriage. Another revolves around Duran’s attempts to escape from Shivaji.
The icon story is convoluted and filled with implausible circumstances that keep popping up. For instance, to keep Duran from just killing Shivaji, the Nizam placed a poisonous bracelet on his arm. It can only be removed by a special tool. Tampering causes tiny needles to pop out and inject deadly poison. This puts Duran in the position of being in a situation for which there appears no solution and one which causes him to participate in the search. But it leaves the reader feeling discontent over the strength of the hero. All of his antics and the reason he is in this predicament left him less than sympathetic, and definitely not one I cared what really happened to.
Jessica starts out as a likely heroine. She has countered the prejudices of the day to defy her family and make a name for herself in business. She is only on the fringe of acceptance, but well on her way to showing the men she can be a success. Enter this past lover, and she sinks into a wishy-washy miss who doesn’t know her own mind and one who struggles with her lustful feelings. Her business immediately plays second fiddle to his needs.
There is a feeling of hopelessness to the story. Even if Duran finds the icon, Shivaji or his son will still kill him. Duran lies to Jessica so often it is difficult to remember the truth. He is sneaky and seemingly untrustworthy. There was little to like, therefore I never cared if he found the icon or cared if he loved Jessica. Jessica is only somewhat likable and I generally felt uncomfortable that she was being taken advantage of in the guise of “needing her help”. Other than fantastic sex that caused her to act like a wanton and sated her to the point of exhaustion, I never “got” what she saw in Duran to even make her think she loved him.
If you are a die-hard Kerstan fan, you may like this more than I did. Although the yarn did not appeal to me, it is a well-written novel. It is really the mystery that moves the story for the first 200 pages. (In my opinion, it moves slowly…but it does move). The “love story” is a series of increasingly more explicit love scenes in the last 150 pages. The resolution of the mystery coincides with the resolution of Mariah’s problem. The Golden Leopard is a pale imitation of good romantic suspense.