on 5 February 2006
"Deadly Kisses" is author Brenda Joyce's eighth installment in the historical mystery/romance series featuring New York City debutante Francesca Cahill. Ms. Cahill, society bluestocking and heiress to a considerable fortune, has done remarkably well so far as an amateur sleuth, NYC's first female private investigator and a major novelty in her chosen profession. It is only 1902, after all, and women still have seventeen more years before the United States Congress and Senate approve the 19th Amendment, giving them the right to vote.
Francesca has solved the case of the City Strangler, the heinous Cross Killer mystery, two child kidnappings, several murders, captured a stalker, discovered the ringleaders of a child prostitution ring and had them put behind bars, restoring the young girls to their families, and thus has earned the right to call herself "Crime-Solver Extraordinaire," as printed on her Tiffany embossed business cards. Of course she has had the assistance of her dear friend and former love, police commissioner Rick Bragg, to teach her the ropes. Unfortunately for the nascent romance, Rick's estranged wife, Leigh Ann, returned from a lengthy stay in Europe, and nipped it in the bud.
Francesca's fortuitously met and fell deeply in love with Calder Hart, Rick's half brother, at about the same time Leigh Ann appeared on the scene. So our sleuth is not mourning the loss of Rick's attentions one bit. Calder is a wealthy art connoisseur, rogue and rake, but is bent on reforming his ways now that he is engaged to marry Francesca. However, he has serious misgivings about the marriage as his feelings for his fiancee intensify. At times he is convinced that he is not good enough for her, a sentiment shared by Andrew Cahill, Fran's father, Rick Bragg, Daisy Jones, Calder's former mistress, and various other members of society. Francesca believes in Calder despite his past, and realizes how much she loves him and wants to make a life with him. Clearly the two are an eccentric match made in heaven. Not only do they share a firm friendship, she is Calder's first and only friend, but sparks fly when they're together.
So if this is a mystery, why am I rambling on about the soap opera aspects of the "Deadly" novels? Well, because I have read every single book in this series - in order - and am much more interested in the characters than in the frequently transparent whodunnits that Francesca's is dedicated to solving. I am not alone in this preference as I have spoken with other Brenda Joyce fans, and their attachment to these characters is similar to mine.
So, while the ever addictive drama of Ms. Cahill's personal life continues in "Deadly Kisses," one of the more interesting mysteries in this series unfolds.
Late one evening, Francesca receives a note asking her to come immediately to the home of Calder's former mistress, Daisy Jones. When she arrives, she finds Daisy dead, stabbed brutally. The woman's former, former lover and dear friend Rose, (Daisy swung both ways), is holding the body in her arms, obviously in shock and grieving. Calder is also in the house, Fran discovers, and all the evidence points to him as the probable murderer.
Obviously, Francesca believes that Calder could never commit such a crime, even though he had threatened Daisy just a few weeks prior to her horrible demise. Throughout the ordeal which follows, Fran never loses faith in him nor doubts his innocence. But her fiance is keeping significant information from her - a terrible secret that could ruin their relationship forever.
When evidence forces Rick Bragg to arrest Calder, Hart decides, unilaterally, to break-off his engagement to spare Francesca's reputation and possible ostracism from polite society. Francesca braves the anger of her father and others in her determination to solve the crime and to stand by her man, no matter what. Her tenacity makes her the murderer's next target.
I must admit I am still hooked on the series, the developing characters and their ongoing, individual stories. If you are interested, I would suggest reading the previous Francesca Cahill novels before "Deadly Kisses," as this is a continuing saga and extremely addictive. I warn you there are many flaws, but I have just finished eight books - so what else can I say?
Come meet these personages, if you have the patience, and become involved in their lives, loves, traumas, and the delightful historical setting of 1902-1903 New York City, with its society balls and glitter, the tenements and roughs, gambling halls and beautiful, exotic call girls. Seth Low, the mayor, was recently elected on a reform platform to fight the Tammany Hall machine, and the police commissioner he appointed took some of the actions the fictional Rick Bragg has taken and faced many of the same difficult issues Bragg faces in attempting to reform the terribly corrupt police department. If Ms Joyce takes the series past 1903, Rick will be out of a job as the next administration is a "Tammany beast." Perhaps, Bragg will use the opportunity to run for Senator. ENJOY!! I am.