If a romance novel makes me burst into authentic laughter, I almost always rate it 4 stars or higher based on that alone. It's not easy to charm me and make me laugh. This novel did, in fact, do that, so it's with a bit of guilt that I'm rating it at 3 stars.
This novel had a fun premise, sorta. I could never quite decide how I felt about the premise. Without giving away too much that hasn't already been revealed, this novel does indeed involve a corpse of the heroine's husband being carted about. And, yes, it's kinda comical in a "Weekend at Bernie's" way. But overall it left me feeling a little ick.
Also, and perhaps I cannot broadcast this enough.... I have this huge pet-peeve when the blurb on the back of the book doesn't match the story. It's like buying a book under false pretense. Doesn't the author or editor have say in what's presented on the book as a "hook"?? The blurb on this book says: "Richard must now deal with a maddening desire for his ravishing inherited "wife"-- certainly a gold digger and possibly a murderess." So I was expecting a novel that had to do with some mystery between the hero and heroine. That she would have to prove herself innocent of the murder and of being a gold digger and it would cause some *much needed* obstacles for the two to overcome. Nope. Didn't happen. The hero pretty much decides this woman is worth protecting and saving because she's "an innocent" before he even finishes his first dance with her within moments of meeting her.
Issues- perhaps some ***SPOILERS***:
Why didn't anyone in this novel think to question the most obvious person in relation to this death? The man's valet, which we know in Regency Romance, is usually the closest "friend" a man could have and always seems to "know everything." Yet this idea doesn't occur to everyone, conveniently, till the end. (I guess because he was "sick" in bed and they just... forgot about him?)The ending was so see-through. I had the murderer and the blackmailer figured out the instant they were even introduced as a plot device.
The main characters (and there are six adult people here involved) just all seem so ditsy. They fumble about and make very strange decisions that, to the reader, seem so asinine. The easy answer was clear the entire time but yet these people cart this corpse around for seemingly no reason. The constant shuffling about just seemed a reason to extend the story unnecessarily.
Why is it that so many people were just ok with this body being carted about? One by one each character finds out about the corpse and just accepts it with no issue whatsoever because George (the dead man) was unsavory as a character. Even the priest accepts it with a grain of salt! In the end, the "secret corpse" is practically a newspaper headline. There are a dozen people involved with it and it just seems glazed over.
Ok people, leaving the window open to "chill" a corpse just doesn't seem right. This man would have smelled. The part where the hero and heroine fall on the bed (and land on the corpse) and are about to make love just was... ick.
Towards the end there were so many plot holes and asinine decisions I wouldn't bore you to list them. Ok, but here's a good one worth mentioning: in an effort to attack a blackmailer.... one of the male characters who is supposed to be "hiding" from site seals himself by accident into a hole where he cannot get out because "there weren't that many places to hide" therefore making himself unavailable to actually help the situation. He's stuck in this hole behind a chair and has to ask for help to get out long after the blackmailer is apprehended. Seriously? The author presents these people as far less than even reasonably intelligent.
Generally speaking, it takes all six of them to figure out even the mildest plot mysteries.
Moving past the spoilers. I thought this novel had a lot of potential and, in my imagination, I made it far better.
My version of "The Countess" includes:
The hero's POV starting on the farm in America, where he has toiled and slaved, when Daniel comes to rescue him. He is truly anguished and tortured and set on revenge against his brother who has been so cruel and tried to murder him. His need for revenge and his anger would have been amplified times ten (instead of the mild version of it we're presented with).
The heroine has been abused (amplified by ten) by her fiend of a husband. This torture would have made it OK for everyone to really dislike the corpse and accept his demise. The marriage WAS consummated somehow (I don't care how), because George wasn't stupid and he would have realized that without this crucial detail he could have lost the marriage to an annulment. Because of all of this abuse, the heroine is not only emotionally beaten but terrified of intimacy as well. The hero must "save" her and help her heal... and one of the obstacles is that he looks just like the man who tortured her.
When the hero first finds the corpse and his "wife" he does indeed suspect her of foul play. Why else would she leave the corpse hidden and whisk off to a ball to have fun and dance? So, yes, of course she's guilty and at first, the hero takes out his unrequited revenge on her and suspects her of sin. However, he soon realizes she's innocent when she quakes in fear and spends the rest of the novel making it up to her.
I would have taken Daniel and Suzette and moved them completely to novel two- The Heiress- and given them their own unique story. As much as I liked them as characters- I felt they simply worked to distract the actual hero and heroine from having a good story of their own.
I definitely would have heightened the murderer/ blackmail plot line and turned into something above a simple scandal. Life-threatening and suspenseful would have been nice.
I would have altered the ending and made the murderer, yes, about saving the heroine. But for a reason, not just because. (Perhaps the poison was meant for her and he meant to murder her that very night... but the butler, being aware of this, secretly switches the glasses and thus out-wits the fiend and murders the murderer...)
I could go on and on but let's just say I would have made the novel much, much darker and more suspenseful. Why, you ask? Because it's about a CORPSE. If you're going to write a gothic Regency Romance than do it properly! If you're going to introduce murder, intrigue, abuse and scandal, go all the way...... you know? This novel tried to hard to stay on the light fluffy side of murder and abuse and so failed to be taken seriously.