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Monday, February 14, 2011

Deadly Illusions by Brenda Joyce

Deadly Illusions by Brenda Joyce
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (384 pages)
Heat Level: spicy
Rating: 4.5 books
Reviewed by Water Lily

Irrepressible heiress and intrepid sleuth Francesca Cahill moves from her own glittering world of Fifth Avenue to the teeming underbelly of society, a place of pride, passions…and sometimes deadly perversion.

Despite the misgivings of her fiancé, Calder Hart, Francesca cannot turn away from a threat that is terrorizing the tenement neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. A madman has attacked three women, but while the first two victims survived, the third is found dead. All the victims are impoverished but beautiful Irishwomen—and Francesca fears that her dear friends Maggie Kennedy and Gwen O'Neil could be next.

Soon she is working with her former love, police commissioner Rick Bragg—Calder's half brother and worst rival. But even as Calder's jealous passions leave his relationship with Francesca teetering on the brink, Francesca is frantically on the killer's trail, certain the Slasher will strike again, afraid she will be too late.…

This re-release of Ms. Joyce’s 2005 title made me want to go back and read all the previous titles in the Deadly series.

The murder mystery is interesting—who is killing the poor, but hardworking Irish women in the tenements?--but it’s the characters that carry this book. Each character is multi-dimensional. Francesca Cahill is bright, witty, daring, and beautiful yet a bit reckless. Her fiancé, the notorious rake Calder Hart, is arrogant and self-assured yet needy and jealous when it comes to Francesca. The police commissioner Rick Bragg, Calder’s half brother, has unresolved feelings for both his beautiful wife and Francesca. Francesca’s gambling-addict brother secretly loves a poor widow, but is openly involved with Bartolla, a scheming widow who is after his money but doesn’t quite understand he’s been disowned by his father and is broke.

Francesca is flawed in ways appropriate for an heiress in early 1900’s New York. She lives in a privileged society and though she sleuths in New York’s seedy underbelly, things come far too easy for her. The poor she befriends are the working poor who don’t hold her privilege against her. And while the reader may suspect the poor live in desperation, the feeling of those scenes is more of gentile poverty than squalor and fear. She travels about with little or no concern for her safety. The gun she carries is of more danger to herself than to anyone else.

Everything simply comes easily to Francesca. Her family may disapprove of her sleuthing, but they take no steps to stop her. Her fiancé is willing to give up his evil ways to be with her. During their sexual interludes, Calder is the sensitive one committed to postponing consummation until marriage. Despite the risks Francesca takes, she is safe with him, and he makes certain she is safe while they are apart. During the final moments of the mystery, Francesca just has to think hard and the answer comes to her.

In other words, Deadly Illusions is a light, fun, character-driven, romantic suspense set in 1902 Manhattan. Despite the complexity of the characters, the story is entertaining but not deep. I enjoyed the suspense, but was never really worried about any of the key characters because the outcomes were predictable. Still, I have two more of Ms. Joyce’s Deadly titles on my shelf and have no doubt they’ll be as entertaining as Deadly Illusions was.