Sunday 31 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 123: "For Your Arms Only" by Caroline Linden

Page count: 388 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Alexander Hayes fought bravely during the Napoleonic war and achieved the rank of Major. During the battle of Waterloo, he was gravely injured and nearly died. When he, some weeks later, managed to get back to rejoin his fellow soldiers, he discovered that not only had one of his childhood friends died during the battle, but that he was being accused of treason. In absolute disgrace, he lets his family continue to believe that he died, and goes to work as a spy for England, in the hopes of eventually being able to clear his name.

Now, five years later, he is sent to locate a soldier whose gone missing from his former home town. He needs to come clean to his family about having been alive all these years, without being able to tell them the truth about where he's been or why he never contacted them. He also discovers that the soldier's youngest daughter, Miss Cressida Turner, is deeply distrustful of strangers, and just as likely to shoot him as aid him in his search. Once Cressida realises just in what dire straits her missing father left her, her widowed sister and aged grandmother in, she has no choice but to join forces with the mysterious possible traitor, as her family will be destitute and homeless if her father is not located soon.

A View to a Kiss, the first book in this trilogy, was a fairly slow and rather uneventful book, despite having a spy as a main character and several others as part of the supporting cast. As it had the rather unusual premise of a noblewoman falling for a commoner, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and rated it higher than I possibly should have. It does, however, mean that I'm not so generous with my rating of this second book, starring Alex Hayes/Alec Brandon, one of the supporting spies of book one, as this one is if possible even less exciting than the first one, and here there is no creative turning on its head of common tropes.

Our hero is worried about returning to his home town, and the only one who seems truly happy to see him is his mother, who doesn't seem to care why her youngest son is alive but hasn't been in contact for five long years. One of the reasons Alex is told by his superiors that he should return home (in addition to the mission) is that his older brother passed away a while back, so he is now the heir to the estate. His younger sister Julia is deeply hurt (very understandably so) and his cousin, who believed himself to be the heir and who has dutifully taken care of everything since his brother's death, must be some kind of saint, as he doesn't protest even a little bit to have his believed inheritance suddenly snatched away. For a while, I believed he may turn out to be part of whatever villainous plot had made Papa Turner disappear (because there was going to be some sort of plot, right?), but SPOILER - he turns out to be totally legit and just goes back to being a nice person somewhere else.

So the plot of this novel, such as it is, involves Alex trying to locate Turner the elder (I do not remember what military rank he was, and I don't care enough to look it up). The first time he runs into Cressida is when he's snooping in the Turner family's stables, and Cressida shows up and pulls a gun on him. She thinks he's handsome and is impressed that he doesn't seem even vaguely intimidated by her (he's a trained soldier, lady, he fought in the war. A slip of a girl with a gun isn't actually much of a threat to him). Her father has been missing for almost two months, and what little money the womenfolk he left behind had, is rapidly running out. While it seems to be pretty common practise for Papa Turner to go off for weeks or the occasional month, he always returns, flush with cash and expects his mother and two daughters to be pleased. He's never been gone two months without word before, and Cressida is getting worried.

After some joint snooping, Cressida and Alex manage to find Papa Turner's journal, which is written in code. Cressida, it seems, has always had a knack for decrypting things and sets about trying to decode the journal, in the hopes that they will find her father that way. I wish I can say they go on lots of exciting search missions, but nope, that is not the case. There's mainly a whole lot of nothing happening for much of the book.

There's a secondary romance subplot involving Cressida's widowed sister and one of their loyal family retainers, who has apparently loved her faithfully since before she got married to the scumbag she is now widowed from. There's their grandmother, who is clearly going senile, and only sees the good in her clearly disreputable son (who does NOT seem like he was a very good father), convinced he will show up any second now. Alex' sister Julia keeps being surly because he won't tell her anything of importance, and she's worried he did in fact commit treason all those years ago.

After three quarters of a book of really nothing much happening at all, there is suddenly a big, over the top action-packed finale, when they discover the truth behind Papa Turner's disappearance (which coincidentally, and very conveniently) turns out to be related to Alex' being accused of treason after Waterloo. Suddenly there's nefarious villains, and people being manhandled and threatened and there's danger and destruction and in a book which has pretty much been people pottering about the country side asking questions, or trying to figure out a code in a book, it seems very sudden and badly out of place.

I still have the final volume in this series left to read (curse those e-book sales), but considering how dull this book turned out to be, I'm not exactly going to be rushing to finish it.

Judging a book by its cover: If I recall correctly, the hero of this novel has short blond hair, not some dark and flowy mullet. The heroine is described as much younger than the lady on this cover, with nearly black, straight hair and she seems to dress fairly primly. So I'm assuming the publishing department just found a generic historical romance cover and called it a day, not really bothering with any kind of accuracy.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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