GENRE: HISTORICAL ROMANCE
PUBLISHER: BETHANY HOUSE
PUBLICATION DATE: JUNE 01, 2012
RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 - EXCELLENT
PROS: Plot is entirely original and unlike anything already present in the genre; perfect blend of romance and mystery
CONS: Spiritual sections felt disjointed and didn't add much to the story
When Ellie Moore finds herself alone and jobless in Chicago after spending her whole life working for the theatre, she has no idea where to look for work. All she has is a trunk full of costumes and her skill at putting together an outfit. When she overhears two men discussing their need for a new female operative for their detective agency, Ellie can't help but wonder whether her knowledge of costumes and disguises might be able to help her gain such a position. After much convincing and a new persona as the elderly Aunt Livinia, Ellie makes her way to the small town of Pickford, Arizona, where she is to meet an experienced detective who is to play the part of her niece, and help her catch the thieves who are stealing silver from the nearby mines. But along the way, Ellie receives news that her partner is unable to make it to Pickford. Desperate for work, Ellie decides to continue on to Arizona and solve this mystery on her own. But as endearing as Livinia is, she isn't able to make the right people talk. Ellie really needs someone to play the part of Jessie, the attractive and flirtatious niece of Livinia. She couldn't play both parts...could she? With all the effort of keeping track of her two personas, Ellie finds herself becoming more confused about who she really is, especially when Jessie catches the eye of handsome mine-owner, Steven Pierce. Between balancing the two characters of Livinia and Jessie and attempting to catch the silver thieves, Ellie may just have forgotten to guard her heart against potential suitors...
The common thread that I've spotted in reviews of this book is that it is a lot of fun to read, and I completely agree with that sentiment. The premise of Ellie switching between two different personas in order to solve a crime not only made for an original and compelling story, but also a very entertaining one. It was the premise of the novel that drew me to Love in Disguise in the first place and it definitely lived up to my expectations. While there's a mystery running through the entire book and a sweet, if slow to develop, romance between Ellie and Steven, it was Ellie's character-switching that kept me reading. Could she really keep her ruse up? Would she ever forget which character she was playing? Would anyone figure out that neither Livinia nor Jessie existed? Not only did this situation create a fair amount of suspense, it was also pretty amusing to read about Ellie's attempts to play two entirely different characters. I found myself grinning and giggling at several points throughout the story, and it was very sad to say goodbye to these characters - not just Ellie, but also Livinia and Jessie, who almost seemed as real as Ellie.
Unlike some historical novels that contain a hint of mystery, I didn't solve the mystery before the protagonist. But I wasn't at all disappointed at this. Ultimately, I just wanted Ellie to catch the thieves and prove that she could be a good detective; I didn't really mind who ended up being cast in the role of the bad guys! But although the mystery wasn't always at the forefront of my mind while I was reading this novel, I did appreciate the climatic ending. It was nice to see Ellie using the wits that she had developed over the course of the story, and a couple of hints that had been dropped earlier in the novel finally made sense and aided the characters as they apprehended the thieves. Fans of romantic suspense and mysteries may be disappointed that Ellie's attempts to catch the thieves aren't as developed as they would be in a pure mystery novel, but I felt that Love in Disguise had the perfect blend of history, mystery and romance to keep fans of all three genres entertained.
The romantic element to Love on Disguise wasn't as central as I thought it would be, considering that the word "love" is in the title, but the slow progression of Ellie and Steven's relationship seemed appropriate for their situations. Steven was preoccupied with protecting the interests of his mine and Ellie was too wrapped up in being both Livinia and Jessie to consider the possibility of her connection with Steven turning into something more serious. I found Ellie's reaction when she realised that Steven was falling for Jessie to be very realistic. Her dilemma over whether she was leading Steven on and whether it was fair to continue spending time with him was very heart-felt. Did he really love her, underneath her disguise? Or would he be disappointed once she took off her wig and revealed how different she was from Jessie? Even if Ellie's situation in this book was entirely fanciful, the "Does he really like me for who I am inside?" issue is one that any woman can relate to.
I came very close to giving this novel full marks: I loved the concept, the characters, the suspense and the romance. But what holds me back from giving Love in Disguise five stars is the spiritual aspect of the novel. While I liked Ellie's commentary on her church experiences and her reception of the pastor's sermons, some of the other scenes that were intended the show the development of Ellie's relationship with Jesus just didn't flow with the rest of the novel. The one where she devoted her life to Jesus seemed to almost come out of nowhere, and I wished there had been more development on Ellie's spiritual life. She seemed to have almost no concept of faith at the start of the book, and while there was a smattering of comments on her growing relationship with God over the course of the book, it wasn't enough to convince me that Ellie had suddenly come to a complete understanding of God's love for her by the end of the novel. The spiritual sections of the novel were so brief that they could easily have been removed entirely from the novel and not changed the flow of the story. While I do think that the spiritual elements of Love in Disguise could have worked if they had been better integrated into the main storyline, I couldn't help but wonder if by choosing to write a salvation plot into the story, Carol had missed out on the great possibility for exploring the struggles that a Christian detective faces in having to lie and deceive others as part of their work. That is a story that I'd definitely like to read.
Although I wasn't entirely convinced by the spiritual aspects of Love in Disguise, I didn't find fault with any other aspect of the novel. From start to finish, this book had me hooked and I hated having to put it down for any reason. Not only does Love in Disguise contain the perfect blend of character development, mystery and romance, it's also entirely original and unlike anything I've come across in this genre. And although I appreciated the originality of Love in Disguise, I can't help but hope that Carol gets the chance to write another novel about a female detective. If she does, you can be certain that I'll be one of the first to get my hands on it.
Review title provided by Bethany House.