has also reviewed:

A Love So Splendid

 
A Love So Fine by Linda Ladd
(Topaz, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-19509-4
**
If you liked A Love So Splendid, you will probably like Linda Ladd's sequel, A Love So Fine. Read no further. Otherwise, you may very well be better off spending time and money on a different book.

Though the cover art of A Love So Fine would seem to promise a cozy, tea-and-biscuits sort of book, it actually reads more like romantic suspense. At times, when the plot was working, I was pleasantly reminded of the classic Victoria Holt books of yore a type of novel which richly deserves a renaissance. However, these pleasant associations only lasted halfway through A Love So Fine.

A Love So Fine tells the story of Liberty Thornhill, daughter of the previous book's hero and heroine. The book begins in 1808, with Libby arriving in Yorkshire from Philadelphia. It seems her dearest friend, Henrietta, has been murdered on the moors, and Libby has traveled all the way from America to discover the killer.

Though Libby is the daughter of an English duke, she is also a proud American, uncomfortable with the pomp and circumstance of her father's station. Thus, as she is a young widow, she travels under the name of her deceased husband. She figures she will be better able to conduct her detective work, if no one knows who she really is.

At Lasserthon Manor, she is charmed to meet Henrietta's husband, who seems genuinely grief-stricken at his new bride's fate. There she also meets Julian, Lord Edmonton, a notorious rake for whom she forms an instant dislike. She knows from Henrietta's letters that she was frightened of him, and with little more to go on other than his shocking manners, Libby decides he is her culprit.

Unfortunately, Ladd takes awfully long to set up her story. The beginning part doesn't develop the hero's character, whose motives must needs remain in the dark. But that throws a glaring spotlight on Libby's character, which quickly became tiresome. We are to understand that Libby is something of a paragon of wit, but instead she comes across as a humorless prig. And some detective! She immediately decides Julian is her prime suspect, but then widely broadcasts her antipathy for him.

Character flaws aside, I kept reading, but just as things were getting somewhat exciting when the dark and dreadful Julian, Lord Edmonton has kidnapped Libby for being too nosy, ridden through a dark and stormy night and imprisoned her in his tower, the plot comes to a screeching halt. Mystery over. Julian, Lord Edmonton is not guilty of the hideous crimes Libby attributed to him. She can therefore give into her carnal desires and engage in a torrid affair with the most notorious rake of the ton.

But wait, there are still one-hundred-and-fifty pages left! After several chapters of happy rapture, Libby and Julian wed, then travel to London to meet her parents. It turns out, however, that Julian has a blood feud with Libby's father, the Duke of Thorpe. Whoa-a Nelly! Has Julian, Lord Edmonton only married her for revenge? Must Libby choose between Julian and her beloved father?

Will Libby ever live down the humiliation of Julian showing her nude portrait to her Papa? Gads, what do you think? Really, after the mystery is solved, and the plot clumsily switches gears to family melodrama, all suspense is drained from A Love So Fine. In fact, the climax, in which all-is-resolved, must borrow an entirely new character from the forthcoming book in the series. Though this might not bother some readers, it definitely struck me as a structural faux pas and cop-out.

Linda Ladd has been taken to task in other reviews for her wobbly grasp of history. Here, in A Love So Fine, she wisely avoids too much mention of actual history, beyond that of costume and carriages. Some writers refer to this as "wallpaper;" just enough detail to establish a feeling for the period. But Ladd's wallpaper relates very little feeling for her chosen period. I won't give detailed criticism here, but suffice to say that when Ladd writes of Napoleon, she refers to him as "the Sicilian!"

However, silly plots, sketchy characterization and bad history would be forgivable by this reviewer if the writing simply had been more interesting. All too often it is bogged down by overwriting and repetition. Also, A Love So Fine is at least a hundred pages too long, and would have benefited by judicious editing; many of the long and wordy passages could have been trimmed without any harm to the story. And unfortunately, lack of dramatic tension cannot be alleviated by making the principal male characters behave in the most infantile manner imaginable. Like quite a few romance authors, Ladd labors under the curious impression that a hero's frequent rages make him "passionate," when actually he comes off as a big scary baby.

Linda Ladd definitely has a certain flair for storytelling; however, her talent is so undisciplined, her writing so unpolished that I cannot recommend A Love So Fine.

--Meredith Moore


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