Lucinda Fairfax, heroine of Evelyn Roger’s Devil in the Dark, is truly a victim of her era: Without a restraining order, she has little choice but to submit to the emotional tortures wrought upon her by a twisted man named Gideon. Unfortunately for Lucinda, Gideon is also the book’s hero, which means she not only has to tolerate him, but marry him to boot.
Lucinda, you twit, you have my deepest sympathy.
Lucinda was a small child when her English father unexpectedly inherited a viscountcy and abandoned his American family for the good life in Yorkshire. They struggled along without him, balancing on the edge of poverty, until Lucinda’s mother died and Lucinda went to live with a cousin.
Now Lucinda has received word of her father’s death and his posthumous gift to her: his lands, his fortune, and his estate, Craven Manor. Initially she thinks to sell the property, but the will reserves that privilege for her first-born son. Since Lucinda is tired of imposing on her cousin and eager to avoid an unwanted marriage, she decides to try life in the English countryside.
On her journey, she narrowly avoids being trampled by a reckless horseman. That rider is none other than her new neighbor, Lord Gideon Blackthorne, commonly referred to as “The Devil Duke.” Shaken by the incident, Lucinda continues on to Craven Manor, where a stray dog offers her friendship but the staff does little to make her feel welcome.
That night, as Lucinda takes a stroll outside, she discovers the duke lurking in the shadows. Spellbound by his stalker-like behavior and creepy personal comments, she nearly allows him to kiss her, but is saved by her newly adopted dog, whose growl calls her to her senses. Foiled, the Duke warns her to forsake Yorkshire, then stalks off.
A kooky old woman promptly appears to advise Lucinda to beware the duke, lest she end up like her father. Lucinda, however, refuses to listen. Her fascination with the duke only grows in the following days, as he subsequently runs from her, ambushes her, spouts unfounded paeons to her purity and allure, and issues bizarre warnings about his own evil nature.
Meanwhile, as the housekeeper and the butler conspire in low, venomous tones about the necessity to “proceed cautiously,” something haunts her father’s old bedroom, and someone tries to kill her. Lucinda must struggle to fathom these mysteries, as well as negotiate the thorny path into the duke’s heart, if she ever wishes to find true happiness…
Devil in The Dark is Evelyn Rogers’ self-described attempt to write in the classic Gothic mode. However, while she hits every clichéd note in the Gothic aria, she seems to have forgotten the accompanying orchestra - namely characterization, credibility, and coherency. Gideon, whose conversation consists mostly of twisting Lucinda’s comments into rhetorical non-replies, is bizarre and utterly impenetrable, his behavior less logical than that of a PCP addict. Worse, he tends to lower Lucinda, who is otherwise likable, to his level. In a typical exchange between the two, Lucinda asks:
“Was that thunder in the distance?”
A mystery, indeed. What the heck are they talking about? If this exchange doesn’t resonate with you, then don’t expect to understand the love story, because most of the pair’s conversations aren’t any clearer, save when Gideon blurts scorchers like “Where would you touch if I said fondle me?”
“Probably. It’s a sound I’m used to.”
She stared at him for a moment, at the lines between his eyes.
“I think you mean more than just the promise of rain.”
Always enigmatic…always a mystery.
Actually, when Gideon’s not popping up to bemuse us, the tale actually worsens, since the mysteries shrouding Craven Manor feel haphazardly assembled as well as explicated. Lucinda herself is so obsessed with Gideon that she barely possesses the energy to wonder about stray bullets, ghostly emanations, and arson attempts. And if the character doesn’t care, why should we?
The real mystery here is why Lucinda is obsessed with Gideon in the first place. She offers one explanation on page 86: “Women were natural nurturers. And she had wanted to nurture him."
Lucinda, you twit, that’s what the stray dog is for!