A regency romance murder mystery that acknowledges the societal problems of the time and cares about explicit consent. Also banter.
Oh, you’re still here? Alright.
Plot: Lady Katherine Bascomb is an independently wealthy widow who runs a newspaper. Among her interests is the crime beat, for which she writes regularly. The book starts with her meeting her soulmate, Caroline Hardcastle, a fellow writer. Together, they decide to start a guide to address the intolerable gap in crime reporting that considers the female perspective (with goals to include delicate, lady-like topics like how to protect yourself from being murdered). Their first article is about the incompetence of Scotland Yard in catching the Commandments Killer, who has been plaguing London for months. The detective in charge of the investigation, whose investigation has been getting sabotaged by another detective who doesn’t like him, is thrown off the case, and the new guy in charge promptly charges an innocent man, which makes the detective furious and our intrepid reporter feel deeply guilty for the role her column played in it. So she sets out to make it right, and walks right into another crime scene. And who but our wronged detective is sent to investigate? Shenanigans ensue.
If you like murder mysteries, you might like this one. Despite clocking the Bad Guy from nearly the first instance, I was still surprised by several of the developments and impressed with the deductive reasoning of our leads in finding the next step in the investigation. There were very few conveniently placed plot twists for the sake of discovering some Key Clue that leads them onward – each discovery is earned through meticulous investigation and critical thinking. Collins doesn’t take the easy way out, nor does she create a villain that is unambiguously bad, which I very much appreciate. She even allows her villain to be a little nonsensical in a way that is pretty rare in mysteries in my experience, making mistakes and miscalculations that murder mysteries seem to avoid for some reason. I really appreciated that she trusted her audience enough to create that ambiguity and understand that people are not James Bond supervillains or Gone Girl levels of psycho.
If you like character driven stories, this will likely be a dud.
Let’s start with our soulmates, Kate and Caro. They know everything about each other. They have the sort of comfort with each other that takes years to build, and I absolutely always love it when we have deep, meaningful friendships in a romance. Only you might have noticed in the description that I mentioned that the book starts with them meeting. Because they’ve known each other for like a month by the end of the book. They are basically strangers who have a shared interest in writing. I don’t care how deeply they bonded over that and like the two times they hung out before Kate left town. Their relationship makes absolutely no sense, and there was literally no reason to make them meet at the outset. They could have just as easily been childhood friends and you’d have had to change literally nothing in the book and it would have been so much better.
Not only does this relationship not make sense, this lack of sense compounds when you add the other characters in. If Kate and Caro have gotten that close in that short a period of time, why doesn’t Kate know about whatever mysterious nonsense is going on between Caro and Val? In fact, she seemed surprised to learn that they even knew each other, which of course makes sense since she and Caro are goddamn strangers, but it makes no sense in the context of the relationship we’re being told they have. How did Caro, who seemed to know that Kate and Val were very close, did not even mention they knew each other before showing up on his damn doorstep to see Kate?
All of this short term soulmate nonsense obviously also bleeds into the book’s focus – Kate and Andrew. They go from hating each other to marriage in like two weeks tops, of which they spend maybe 4 days together. They know nothing about each other. Kate has well earned trust issues with an institution that by design robs her of the one thing she cares about – her freedom. These trust issues are tossed by the wayside because Andrew wouldn’t use the power of the law against her like that. Given that this man is a literal stranger who has given her precisely zero reasons to trust that he would not use his position as Husband to control her (and in fact spends literally the entire book trying to control her behaviour), this is more of a horror story than a romance.
The only relationship that makes any sense is Val and Kate, who have actually known each other their whole lives. This kind of intimate relationship is what Collins seems to want to write but for some reason seems intent on focusing on these frantic, short term connections that are destined to fizzle out the minute the ink is dry.
The last point I’ll make is that it is referred to as a rom-com. It’s not funny. Caro is there as comic relief, but given how serious the tone is the rest of the time, she just comes across as a caricature of a person rather than a funny character. It’s very doable to have a murder mystery comedy, but a comedy where the emotional core of the book is about the lasting damage done to our psyches by the people who are supposed to love us makes for very few laughs.
*The title of this review is actually one of the reviews from Goodreads in full and I feel embarrassed by how perfectly it captures in 6 words what I’ve struggled to say in a thousand, but here we are, so thank you, Leine.