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Like most people with a Kindle, I'm always on the lookout for an Amazon freebie and this novel was just such a one, although it's now being sold for 77p. Louise Marley is a new author for me so I wasn't too sure what to expect from this romantic suspense story. What I got was a novel in the best tradition of a Jilly Cooper 'bonkbuster' but lacking Cooperesque humour and ability to write.
Set in the countryside just outside the imaginary town of Norchester is Kirkwood Manor, once the family home of the local squire but for the last century or so it has been run as an upmarket hotel by the Kirkwood family. Married to the current owner, Caitlin Kirkwood has just discovered she's expecting their first child but a matter of hours after celebrating this happy news, Caitlin discovers her husband Hugh frolicking with his latest mistress. Hugh is unrepentant but he's due to experience retribution of the fatal kind.
At a society party being held in the hotel, Hugh slopes off to the hotel pool which is housed within an old barn for a spot more frolicking with his new mistress, Amanda, and another lady hopeful of joining Hugh's harem, but whilst they are in the barn, it burns down killing Hugh and Amanda. As far as the police are concerned, and everyone else for that matter, this is a murder investigation and there is only one name in the frame and it belongs to Caitlin.
Oh dear! Where to begin. If I was to sum up this book I would say that it's as though Jilly Cooper, having something of an off day, had penned a rather inferior episode of Midsomer Murders. The plotline and characters are as far removed from real life and verging on a fantasy as you're ever likely to get without straying into Tolkein territory. Caitlin is friends with novelists, aristocrats and even British royalty and has a fabulously wealthy and much married mother with a long Spanish title whose character is just pure Joan Collins.
By my summing up, you'll gather that this story is short on originality and is just a mash up of stock plots and characters from every chick lit novel you've ever read. In fact, I had so many issues with this book, I surprised myself by actually finishing it.
My first problem was with the heroine. Caitlin is twenty-four and whilst this does go some way towards explaining why she behaves in such an incredibly childlike manner throughout the entire book, it also makes it very difficult to believe that she's actually the manager of a large and successful country hotel. Nothing about this character comes across as realistic, even when she's just discovered her husband of several years has been unfaithful, she doesn't get on the phone to her solicitor to find out if she can take the swine for everything he's got, but instead carries on with the party arrangements. During the event she goes off with a complete stranger she's picked up at the party and if it wasn't for the fact that she was interrupted, I suspect she'd have ended up sleeping with him, which really makes her no better than her philandering husband.
Secondly, the hero leaves a lot to be desired. This novel is marketed as romantic suspense and the prerequisite for any romantic novel is that the hero is someone with whom the reader could imagine falling in love. Marc Granger, ex Special Branch and now busted back down to sergeant without any explanation to the reader, just isn't my idea of the ideal man. Witty, urbane and trustworthy would be way up there on my list and Marc just doesn't come close, especially as by the time he's hooked up with Caitlin, he's already slept with his ex-girlfriend and has taken on the task of wooing Caitlin in order to bring about a murder conviction.
As if all that wasn't enough, the plot has as many holes as a knitted dishcloth. Where crime is involved, I was under the impression that the plot was supposed to thicken. This one just gets thinner and thinner and more fantastical by the page. Any author is, of course, allowed some literary licence but this story expects the reader to stretch their imaginations beyond the bounds of credulity. By this stage, the only thing which kept me reading was the desire to see just how much further into fantasy land the author would take me.
I feel very guilty panning a book that someone has spent a good deal of time writing but I suspect that the fact this is only available in Kindle format says it all. There are elements of the story that, if belief is suspended, are quite enjoyable but the whole story had a very dated feel about it. There were parts of it that reminded me of the dire teen romances around in the 1970s. I really didn't warm to any of the characters who were two dimensional and stereotypical as well as being unremittingly boring or unpleasant and sometimes both.
If you have a spare few hours to while away on a beach, this book would be fine. You certainly wouldn't have any problem putting it down and going off to do something else, that's for sure and at 77p to download, it isn't going to break the bank.