The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Anne Long
The notorious Colin Eversea, of the equally notorious Eversea family, has been sentenced to hang for a murder he didn't commit. And someone has hired the widowed Madeleine Greenway to save him from the gallows, which she does. Unfortunately for Maddie she does not know who this person is and he takes into his head to kill her to cover up his involvement. And unfortunately for Colin the one witness to the murder, Mr. Horace Peel, has gone missing. So Colin is hunted by the police and Maddie is hunted by her "employer" and the two set off to solve the mystery of who committed the murder, who attempted the murder, and where our hidden witness is. Along the way the two share stories about their past, spend nights in lofts, meet grave robbers, and of course fall in love.
Our interesting periphery characters include the unscrupulous Crocker who passed the employment information on to Maddie knowing she would wind up dead, Marcus, Colin's brother and the heir to his father's lord, and Louisa, the love of Colin's life and Marcus' fiance. But my favorite would probably be Mary, a maid in the house of a giant's widow, who aids the body snatchers who has the most amazingly written dialogue with Colin and Maddie. Madeleine wants to return Colin to his family for the 200 pound reward they're offering and Colin wants to return in time to stop the wedding. The last two scenes between these two characters are literally heartbreaking and I can not state enough how much I loved these characters.
I have come to the conclusion after reading this book that I can no longer claim to abhor the murder/ mystery side plot in romance novels. Maybe because Ms. Long is just so much better at writing one than anyone I've previously read, maybe because it was the basis for the entire story, maybe because these characters were strong enough not to completely disappear behind an intricate plot. Madeleine is an amazingly likable heroine, realistic and honest, without being stubborn or "sassy." Colin's reputation is adequately explained and he is so supportive of and treats Madeleine well. Watching (reading?) them fall in love was completely realistic and one could tell that these two really did work great together. It really is impossible to simply describe how enjoyable it was to read the interactions between these two. Colin's relationship with Louisa, and Madeleine with her deceased husband, are both adequately addressed while provided just a tad bit of perfect angsty goodness.
I liked these characters so much, my only complaint would be that I didn't get read about them getting sexy more often. There was one sex scene and it was HOT! but then again I might just be a sucker for super-secret, need-to-be-quiet-so-we-keep-our-clothes-on sex. Especially when it's done in the loft they're stowing away in for the night. I can't even complain that there wasn't enough angst about the dead husband or Louisa because, although it was small, it was there and I didn't even want anymore because the rest of the book was so good. So my complaints are, for the most part, not really complaints. Sometimes it did get difficult to keep characters straight, as there are quite a few of them, but the plot was never jumbled or confusing.
Re-reading bits of the book for this review only reaffirmed my belief that this book is truly amazing.