Loretta Chase wrote the wonderful 'Lord of Scoundrels' which was full of life, with great dialogue and original characters. She doesn't seem to have been able to write to the same level since but I had hopes of this book, with its Venetian setting and interesting characters.
It was a good book but, unfortunately, not as good as 'Lord of Scoundrels'. My main problem with the book was a complete inability to like the heroine, Francesca Bonnard, a high-class courtesan and divorcee. We learn of Francesca's history, that she was in love with her husband but had her heart broken by him, but throughout the novel she appears heartless and manipulative. I was never very sure why so many men liked her - she's clearly attractive but she seemed to have an almost super-human ability to make men act like idiots around her. This was not convincing to this reader and meant that I was never entirely carried away by the book.
The hero, James Cordier, is an English spy who is trying to find some treasonous letters that Francesca apparently stole from her husband. Cordier's attention from his task tends to waver in her presence and he decides that the best way to get the letters is to seduce Francesca. It appears, however, that someone else may be after the letters - or perhaps may just be trying to kill Francesca. Can Cordier find the letters and keep Francesca safe?
The Venetian setting of this book was excellent with descriptive passages where we follow high-society people as they travel around on gondolas, attend balls and other events and hobnob with princes and diplomats. However the underlying story was perhaps a little thin and the difficulty I had with Francesca's character, and partly also with Cordier's, meant it wasn't an entirely satisfactory read.
Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book © Helen Hancox 2008