Solid mystery with romantic elements,
This review is from: The Silver Lion: Volume 3 (Kindle Edition)
The Silver Lion is the final book in Lynn Kerstan's Big Cat Trilogy, (the others beingThe Golden Leopard and Heart Of The Tiger) and although, like the others, it can be read independently, it actually picks up some of the plot threads left behind at the end of Heart of the Tiger, so it might be an idea to have read that first.
We have already met the two protagonists. The super-efficient, mysterious Helena Pryce appeared at the start of the series as Jessica Carville's assistant and secretary in "The Golden Leopard", and made several appearances in that book and in "Heart of the Tiger"". She has an unrivalled skill when it comes to acquiring knowledge - much of it gleaned through her numerous contacts in the less salubrious areas of London - is an expert negotiator and organiser and fiercely intelligent. Although she is a servant, she is not subservient, yet it is clear that there is more to her than meets the eye. Her appearance is marked by the unusual spectacles she has to wear to protect her eyes from the light - and more than that, she hides her true self from the world behind them.
Derek Leighton, Earl of Varden also appeared previously, as an adversary of Michael Keynes in "Tiger". Nicknamed "The Archangel" because of his golden good looks, Varden and Keynes hate each other, and while the matter of the death of Keynes' detestable brother has, to all intents and purposes been solved, Varden is still convinced of Keynes' guilt and is determined to bring him to justice.
This, together with a series of mysterious attacks on influential members of the aristocracy, thrusts Varden and Helena into a deadly search for incriminating documents relating to extortion and murder.
This part of the story is very well done and I enjoyed the mystery. The set-up is established quite early on, and the clues and reveals come gradually at first, with the pace quickening as we get closer to the end.
I also enjoyed finding out more about the enigmatic Helena - and I can honestly say that I hadn't the faintest idea about the fact that she was living under an assumed name and identity, and that the reveal came as a complete surprise.
I didn't feel that Varden was as well characterised as Helena, or as Keynes or Hugo in the earlier books. He's handsome, clever, rich and honourable, knows his duty as the head of his family and, at Helena's prompting, begins to take more of an interest in political issues. But he's never more than two-dimensional really, and that made it hard for me to buy into the romance between him and Helena.
The two of them get off to a shaky start. Varden needs a new secretary; Helena applies for the job, but he isn't interested in employing her, despite her experience and spectacular references. So he sets her a seemingly impossible task - which of course she performs without any problem - and he has to retain her services. But instead of keeping her employed himself, he sets her to organising his nieces' come-out, which is not the sort of thing she is at all accustomed to (or enjoys) doing. He knows that Helena will find these duties dull and uninspiring; in the light of this, Varden comes across as small-minded and prejudiced - and yet, not long after Helena has informed him she desires to leave his service, he takes her to bed and they share one night of unbridled and life-changing passion.
There are indications that Helena has had feelings for Varden for some time, but nothing to explain his sudden impulse to sleep with her - she is spinsterish and not especially attractive, even though Varden is intrigued by her and enjoys their verbal `fencing'. After their one night, he is determined there should be more, despite his admission that he is deeply in love with the Duchess of Tallant (previously Mira Holcombe).
Varden's motivations and actions are therefore confusing and I felt that made it difficult to believe in the relationship between him and Helena. That said however, they do begin to forge a trusting friendship as the story progresses which is based on a mutual respect for each other's abilities rather than lust or attraction, which I felt formed a much stronger basis for a long-term future.
I enjoyed the book although I found it a little slow to start. It's not the strongest of the three (I think that is the middle book) but still has plenty to recommend it, not the least of which are some of the final scenes between Varden and Keynes as the two adversaries realise that they are going to have to bury their animosity and learn to get along.
Finally - I think that the blurb as posted on Amazon is somewhat misleading. While the romance is a large element in the story, the search for the murderer/blackmailer is just as (if not more) important, and anyone expecting a story about an Earl and his secretary struggling to find social acceptance of their relationship is going to be disappointed.
With thanks to Bell Bridge Books and NetGalley for the review copy.