Monday, March 24, 2008

Historicals Plus: When One Genre is Not Enough Part I

Sometimes I think that single subgenre romances are becoming an endangered species. For a while, every new title I picked up had a vampire in it. Sometimes this crossover works pretty well, and sometimes it just muddies the waters, leaving you with a book that doesn’t know what it wants to be. I recently tried two new historicals, each with a crossover element, and found one that worked and one that didn’t.

Where the Heart Leads by Stephanie Laurens is subtitled “From the Casebook of Barnaby Adair.” The story features Laurens' usual Regency setting but for the most part abandons social gatherings among the ton in favor of solving a mystery. The book’s hero, Barnaby Adair, is an upper crust amateur sleuth with connections to Scotland Yard. He is recruited by the equally well born Penelope Ashford to help her find some missing boys. Miss Ashford has devoted her considerable intelligence and drive to running an orphanage where children from the most desperate slums in London can come to live and learn a trade. However, several of the youngsters whose dying relatives had arranged form them to go to the Foundling House have disappeared, apparently kidnapped within hours of their parents’ deaths. Penelope fears they are being snatched for some nefarious purpose, and is worried that more kidnappings will follow, so she turns to the only person she knows of that might be willing to help. Barnaby finds both Penelope and her puzzle intriguing, and agrees to investigate.
When I picked up this book, I figured it would be a slam dunk. After all, I like a Regency setting, I like mysteries, I like a strong-willed heroine with a mission other than marriage, I like a hero who has a job, or at least a productive hobby. I also like strong secondary characters, which this book has. So—all the elements are here. And yet.....I just couldn’t get into it. I really tried, but at about page 125 I finally gave up. In spite of all the elements that I liked, I was bored. The mystery didn’t move along quickly enough, bogged down by sleuthing scenes that seemed very contrived. The romance between the main characters lacked any kind of tension. The need to solve the mystery quickly so that no more boys would be kidnapped should have helped, but since the pace of that was so ponderous it didn’t. The budding romance between two of the secondary characters had a little more heat, but you don’t really see enough of them for that plotline to give the rest of the book a lot of traction. So, in spite of all the things that I liked about the premise, this book just didn’t work for me. I can’t say that it’s bad, but I really think that it could have been better executed.

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