It was whispered all through London society that he was a murderer, that he’d spent his youth in an asylum and was not to be trusted-especially with a lady. Any woman caught in his presence was immediately ruined. Yet Beth found herself inexorably drawn to the Scottish lord whose hint of a brogue wrapped around her like silk and whose touch could draw her into a world of ecstasy. Despite his decadence and intimidating intelligence, she could see he needed help. Her help. Because suddenly the only thing that made sense to her was the madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie.
Time and Setting: Victorian England
Heat Rating: 2.5
Rating: 5 stars
This is one of those books that’s been on my TBR mountain for ages, and for which I’ve seen so many enthusiastic and glowing reviews that made me determined to get round to reading it sooner rather than later. But things never work out the way you want and it’s still languishing on the mountain. So instead, I got hold of the unabridged audiobook narrated by Angela Dawe.
I thought the story was terrific and the characterisation was excellent. I can see why so many readers have fallen in love with Ian – he’s all the things you’d expect from a traditional romantic hero; rich, titled and handsome – but so much more. He suffers from what I imagine is a mild form of autism. He’s got practically a photographic memory, is a mathematical genius and can play any piece of music from memory once he’s heard it (being a musician myself, I always like a musical hero!). But he finds it hard to really connect with people – he takes everything literally and doesn’t understand the concept of jokes or irony; he is apt to disappear off into his own world when he is intrigued by something (such as the patterns of light through a cut crystal glass) and he is unable to look directly into anyone’s eyes.
Although ASD is a clearly recognised condition these days, back at the time in which the book is set, Ian’s behaviour was classified as at best “eccentric” and at worst “madness”. He was shut up in an asylum at a young age and subjected to all manner of “treatments” – ice-baths, beatings, electric shocks – until his eldest brother Hart inherited to the dukedom on the death of their father, and had Ian brought home.
His brothers are incredibly protective of him, although Hart is not above using Ian’s talents in his political dealings by having him commit entire and complex documents to memory.
One of the things that is so refreshing about Ian is his directness. He doesn’t understand the concept of lying or see the necessity for it; if he sees something he wants, he doesn’t vacillate, he just goes after it, and that’s one of the things I enjoyed so much about his relationship with Beth. The romance between them is well done – tender and very sexy – as Ian, having believed himself incapable of love, gradually discovers feelings for Beth which both confuse and scare him.
Beth Ackerley is the widow of an East End vicar who, for the past seven or eight years acted as companion to a wealthy woman who has recently died and left Beth her considerable fortune. At the beginning of the book, Beth is engaged to a man Ian doesn’t think is good enough for her, and he immediately sets about getting Beth to break the engagement. He is completely truthful with her, telling her some sordid details about her fiancé and also making no bones about the fact that he wants to sleep with her.
Beth is a terrific heroine. She’s not missish or easily shocked; she doesn’t shy away from her physical desire for Ian, and is not at all embarrassed by her enjoyment of the sexual act and Ian’s “bawdy talk”. She’s got the balls to stand up to Hart, she refuses to be cowed into dropping her inquiries into the events long ago which resulted in the suspicion of murder hanging over Ian; but more importantly than that, she loves and understands him.
I do not think of him as Lord Ian Mackenzie, aristocratic brother of a duke and well beyond my reach; not as the Mad Mackenzie, an eccentric people stare at and whisper about.
To me, he is simply Ian.
This is the first of a series of books about the Mackenzie family, and in it we meet Ian’s older brothers and his sister-in-law and the author skilfully plants the seeds of the plotlines for each family member and their subsequent stories.
Running alongside the romance between Ian and Beth is the story of two murders – one recent, one years ago – and the fanatical detective who is convinced of Ian’s guilt and his determination to have him imprisoned or returned to the asylum.
This is probably the weaker element of the book, although it does serve to give us a good look at the relationship between Ian and Hart, as it seems that each brother has sought to cover up for the other, unnecessarily as it turns out.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story – the pacing and writing were good, the characterisation excellent, and I can tell I’m going to enjoy spending more time with the Mackenzie family in the rest of the series.
In terms of the narration, I’ve not heard Angela Dawe before, and I admit it took me a while to get used to her. Her Scottish accents were rather hit and miss, although I did like the soft quality she brought to Ian’s speech; he’s often described as being hard – hard body, hard eyes – and the softness to his voice was a nice counterpoint to that. Her interpretation of Beth was very good – I thought she really caught her quick intelligence and sense of humour. There were certain of Ms Dawe’s vocal inflections that I found repetitive and somewhat irritating from time to time, but I suspect those were more to do with the fact that she is supressing her natural accent. There’s a definitely Antipodean twang to her narration and her cockney servants (such as Ian’s valet Curry) sounded more as though they were from the Southern Hemisphere than from the East End!
That said though, I didn’t dislike her performance, and would certainly listen to more of her work. I now have to wait until the other audios of this series become available in the UK before I can listen to book 2.