So. Another paperback with a picture of a woman whose clothes appear to be falling off, a manly man whose clothes have already fallen off, author's name and title written in a curly font, pastel background colors and a cheesy title. Nothing unusual here; dozens of books that look just like this one are published every month. Most are fairly mediocre with little characterization and a scanty plot
- but not this one!
In Bed with the Devil, despite the rather corny title (which, for once, actually reflects the contents of the book), is a very good story. It
contains elements that most other historical romances set in Victorian times do - nobility, country estates, seedy parts of London, etc. - but what marks this story
is its convincing characterization. The plot isn't particularly complex: the Earl of Claybourne, a boy who lived as a thief on the streets of London as a youth before being found by his grandfather after killing a man who turned out to be his uncle, wants to marry his childhood love, Frannie, who worked in their thieving gang.
The inconvenience of Lucien Langdon's title means that Frannie feels she's not able to marry him
- she doesn't know how to behave as a Countess. When Lady Catherine Mabry, daughter of a Duke, comes to Lucien to ask him to carry out a murder for her, they establish an unusual wager: Catherine will teach Frannie how to be a Countess, then Lucien/Luke will kill the mystery person for her.
Luke finds himself spending a great deal of time with Catherine and comparing her to Frannie. The two women are very different, yet there's something about Catherine that draws Luke. He can't get too close to her, partly because of Frannie, but also because he is shortly going to have to commit murder for her and knows that will mean the death of his soul.
We discover who Catherine wants killed and why, as Luke starts to learn more about
his mysterious origins, and both Luke and Catherine begin to understand the nature of love and of trust and fidelity, it seems their lives might be in danger. Can they keep themselves safe? Can they be happy?
The strength of this book lies in the characterizations not only of Luke and Catherine, but also of many other people. For once,
in this story the central love affair is believable and grows organically, rather than being presented as a fait accompli. Luke, initially presented as a murdering, devilish man, slowly proves to be quite different. Catherine
is a great heroine, a strong but feminine woman who doesn't spend her time simpering and whining but
gets on with life despite its difficulties for her. The reader can believe absolutely in the happy-ever-after for these two characters.
Historical detail is reasonable in this book despite the dialogue slipping occasionally into Americanisms.
Regardless, the story carried this reader along at all times, and it was always enjoyable to follow the lives of Catherine and Luke.