Review: Who’s That Earl – Susanna Craig
by Susanna Craig
Series: Love and Let Spy #1
Also in this series: One Thing Leads to a Lover
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Miss Jane Quayle excels at invention. How else could the sheltered daughter of an English gentleman create lurid gothic novels so infamous someone wants their author silenced forever? Fortunately, Jane has taken steps to protect herself, first by assuming a pen name, and second, by taking up residence at remote Dunnock Castle, surrounded by rugged scenery that might have been ripped from the pages of one of her books. Her true identity remains a secret, until one dark and stormy night...
After years of spying for the British army, Thomas Sutherland doubts the Highlands will ever feel like home again. Nevertheless, thanks to a quirk of Scottish inheritance law, he's now the Earl of Magnus, complete with a crumbling castle currently inhabited by a notorious novelist. When the writer turns out to be the woman Thomas once wooed, suspicions rise even as mutual sparks reignite. As danger closes in, can Jane and Thomas overcome their pasts to forge a future together?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »alcoholism, death of MC’s mom as a teen, MC was kicked out by family, death threats, violence against MC « Hide Spoiler
Isn’t that cover eye-catching? I have to say, I’m still not sure whether I love it or hate it, but it definitely made me take a closer look. A second chance romance with a dual hidden identity? Set in Scotland? Heck yes!
“Subsequent events ought to have driven Thomas from her mind. Instead, she could recall those golden weeks with him in perfect clarity, when she’d still been naïve, prone to believing in love at first sight, as told in tales of romance. But since the night of the assembly, she’d been forced to confront reality. Now she knew exactly how such fictions were made. She understood the source of their power, and she used it for her own ends.”
Jane is a popular gothic novel author, though she pretends to be just the secretary (ok, actually amanuensis) while Thomas is the new Earl of Magnus, owner of the somewhat rundown castle she’s renting. Seven years ago, when he was a newly minted officer and she was a young debutante, they had a brief whirlwind romance, culminating in a kiss. Both had hopes for more, but circumstances conspired to separate them. Now older and wiser – or perhaps jus more cynical – both are wrapped in secrets they’re reluctant to share with a virtual stranger. For Jane, she’s receiving death threats due to the salaciousness of the “author’s” writing, not to mention the secret that caused her family to cut her off in the first place. For Thomas, his career as a spy is his life, and he has no time for dealing with an obviously neglected earldom. He also worries how the townspeople – who he once viewed as friends – will treat him when they find out about his newly elevated station.
“Mrs. Higginbotham, if I’m going to resolve this matter, I’ll need your cooperation and honesty.”
She tipped her head to the side to acknowledge his point and gave a sweet smile. “Of course. What possible good could come of being dishonest with one another?”
From the moment they meet again, Jane and Thomas’ banter was excellent. While I initially had a hard time believing they’d both be pining over the other based on a few weeks’ acquaintance and one kiss, their banter revealed a depth of connection between them that sold me on it. They also both realize that their unrequited feelings might be better as fantasies than reality – Thomas, at least, realizes how he’s held up Jane and their one kiss as an example of everything good in his life, an antidote to his sometimes soul-destroying spying career. Attempting to revive that relationship might just fail entirely and leave that memory tainted. Jane for her part likes to pretend that she hasn’t spent much time thinking about Thomas. But their whirlwind romance – and the fallout – have formed the basis for her popular books.
“First was the simple fact that she was lying too. Lying to him—to everyone. Not that one person’s lies excused another’s, or that hers made him somehow trustworthy. But it felt hypocritical to fault him for fabricating an answer without knowing why. She, of all people, understood that one might have a perfectly good reason for doing it. She, of all people, knew how risky the truth could be.”
I loved how their secrets were handled. Both characters realize fairly quickly that the other is, if not outright lying, at least keeping secrets, but both are also acutely aware that there are plenty of good reasons why someone would do that. I also loved the bits of Jane’s writing, which were delightfully gothic and overwrought. I honestly wish there had been more, as I’d probably read The Necromancer’s Bride in a heartbeat if it were a real book!
As for cons, the mystery portion of the book was fairly weak. It was extremely obvious who the villain was, and honestly besides giving Thomas an excuse for staying at Dunnock Castle, I thought it detracted from the overall storyline. Also, while I found Dunnock and its neighboring village well described, the secondary characters were flat. I did enjoy General Scott, the matchmaking spymaster, but did find it a bit unbelievable and silly.
Overall, while there were some issues, I’d give this a solid 4 stars. If you’re looking for a historical with a touch of gothic and a great second chance romance plot, I’d definitely recommend this book!