This review contains spoilers for The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes & The Queer Principles of Kit Webb (indirectly): Perfect Crimes releases June 7th, so if all you want is a reminder/nudge to go buy the book, consider this your full-steam ahead, yes-please-buy-this-book-immediately, recommendation. Go read it, & then come back here to talk with me about it, please! This review is 90% amazing quotes, and – as such – will give away/hint at major plot points. If you want your journey to the HEA unspoiled, stop now.
When people ask me why I read romance (which usually only happens in a snobby, annoying, or dismissive manner), I sometimes have a hard time nailing down one specific reason. There’s so many reasons! And then I go into a rant of my own, and I want to start all the way back at The Flame & The Flower and go on through to whatever I’m reading today. Which: Don’t ask me unless you want an actual answer. But over the course of the last few days, as I devoured Cat Sebastian’s The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes, I found myself thinking, again & again, “This. This is why.”
“After everything you said, you think I could possibly be happy if you were miserable? I hadn’t realized that I fell in love with a simpleton.” He wanted to ask her to repeat that, to demand if she meant it, to ask for it in writing. But Marian never said anything she didn’t mean. If she said she loved him, she loved him. She had once said that she didn’t love people the way he did, whatever that meant. Nothing could have mattered less; if Marian loved him, then that was precisely the sort of love he wanted.
“That was precisely the sort of love he wanted.” The acknowledgement that we don’t all love each other – or show our love for each other – in the same ways, and that, when you love someone, you’ll gladly accept the way they love you, no matter that it’s different from yours. That’s why.
Because somebody has to be the brave one, sometimes. And because – in the right relationship – we can take turn being brave, and allowing the person we love to be brave.
“Marian,” he said, barely managing to get the word out. “What is happening right now?” She cast him a faintly disappointed look, and good Christ that should not have gone straight to his prick. “You said that all I had to do was say the word.” “Oh God,” he said. “Have you always been this brave?” She sniffed. “Obviously.” With that, she rested her head on his chest and went to sleep.
“I want to be with you more than I want . . .” He didn’t know how to finish the sentence, because the fact was that he could end it with just about anything and it would be true. “I’ve never thought about the future. Hell, I’ve avoided thinking about the future. But now when I look at time stretching out before me, all I can think is that I want you with me.” He brought his hand to the pocket where he still held her letters and he watched her gaze track his movement. “Everything else is secondary.”
That’s why. The absolute breathtaking gall it takes to fully love other human beings.
Because the heroine can start the book thinking things like this, feeling the straight up Louisa-Surface Pressure-ness of her life:
She was dimly aware that what she was objecting to was simply basic consideration, but it had been a long day. It had been a long year, during which one of the few lessons she had learned was never to let anyone know that you needed anything. Need was only weakness by another name. And if someone could give you what you needed, they could just as easily take it away.
And -through the twisty-turny machinations of an amazing author- wind up feeling like this:
Marian could rely on all these people, and they on her, and that thought made her feel safe in a way she hadn’t known she wanted. She turned to look at Rob, who she had always, somehow, known was safe, who she had trusted when she didn’t think she could trust anyone. “You all right?” Rob asked. Marian knew she was a bit misty and didn’t try to deny it. But she also knew that there was nothing she could say that would do justice to her feelings. “You’re mine,” she said. “And I’m yours.” She swallowed. “It’s a promise.” And Rob must have understood, because he picked up her hand and kissed her palm. “A promise,” he agreed.
That’s why: Found families, built from scratch, through the randomness & greatness, through the weakness & willingness of people to take just one more chance on each other. Because in romance novels, good romance novels, there’s characters we can see ourselves in, or imagine ourselves to be, or relate to in some way, and these characters are written so well by an author of such skill, that we find ourselves rooting for them to do the near-impossible tasks said author has laid in front of them – to trust again after betrayal, to continue trying after hope is as foreign a concept to them as forever.
It was foolish, of course. She didn’t know if, after everything, she was capable of falling in love, or indeed if she ever had been, but she knew she could lose things, and she didn’t want to lose him.
That’s why. Women who’ve lost everything it is possible to lose – their identities, their safety, their freedom, their sense of self & security – but still somehow manage to take their next steps, get through their days, meet the challenges life(/the author) throws at them, with stubbornness & care & power. Men whose worlds get turned absolutely inside out, but whom you can still see struggling to do what they think is right, to find honesty inside themselves when it matters most, to care & connect & give up control when it has been the only thing they’ve ever depended on.
“Come here,” she said, and took his hands, rubbing them between her own. Then, still holding his hands, she bent her head and breathed on them. “Why on earth don’t you have gloves on,” she muttered. He stayed perfectly still, afraid that if he moved she’d notice that she was holding his hands. “Do you want my cloak? It’s very warm.” He looked at her to see if she was teasing him, but her expression was serious. She was—Christ, she was worried for him. The notion made his cheeks heat, made him want to look away.
Because in only in romance novels can lines like these exist, and make 100% perfect, chef’s-kiss-sense:
“You have been busy,” he murmured, thinking of what a waste it was that in all the thousands of love poems written across the ages, nobody had ever thought to catalogue their beloved’s proficiency in crime.
“I beg your pardon.” What a trick it was to be able to say I beg your pardon in a way that meant fuck off and die, and to look serene and saintly while saying it.
She stared at him. “You are ridiculous. I let my life get thrown into uproar by a ridiculous man. How lowering. Villains are supposed to be serious.” “I, a villain?” He put his hand to his heart. “You wound me.” “I wish I wounded you,” she grumbled. “Eat,” he said. With the air of a woman much put upon, she ate, and he very definitely did not grin as he watched her.
So that’s why: Because banter & bravery & queerness that’s as natural & unremarked upon in the story as it is in our actual lives. Because sometimes the story doesn’t wind up being about what you thought it was going to be about, or even what other people -say NetGalley or Goodreads- might tell you it’s supposed to be about. Because every so often, there are just corners of a book that fit into your brain perfectly, or that you fit into perfectly, and that’s what the story ends up being about, for you.
Because The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes winds up being a perfect book, to me.
A book about trust and care and vulnerability; About intimacy and fear and love: About life.
And because I -personally- think that people who don’t read books like this are the ones who should be getting the side-eye, because they’re voluntarily missing out on masterclasses in writing, in character development, and in what it means to be a living breathing human being in this world.
And because books like this exist, and I’m lucky enough to get to read them. I hope you get to, too.