Friday, November 2, 2007

When We Touch, by Shannon Drake [1]

*/***** (1/5)

When he touched her, it was as if he did so because he had to, as if he had no other choice in the world, as if she were the greatest, most alluring treasure in existence...

Vaguely following Jack the Ripper's butchery of prostitutes during the Victorian era, Shannon Drake continues to excel at making belligerent hero-and-heroine interactions fun in WHEN WE TOUCH. Unfortunately, similar to an earlier novel I read by Shannon Drake COME THE MORNING (***), this 444-page paperback tends to meander in tiresome discourses quite a bit. I found this novel worse because the meandering discourses we find here aren't as historically informative as in COME THE MORNING. Although I liked both lead characters here, they didn't stand out as much as COME THE MORNING's hero and heroine either. The prose, plotting and pacing all seemed amateur and the entire reading experience seems to drag and stretch mercilessly as a result. Many of the people in WHEN WE TOUCH are factual such as Inspector Abberline, the Queen, and the royal family. I was reminded of the 2001 movie FROM HELL starring Johnny Depp (played Abberline) which was darker and a lot more interesting. Similar to FROM HELL, we encounter the theory here about an illicit royal marriage between the Prince and a Catholic prostitute producing a possible heir. WHEN WE TOUCH suggests many theories for the violent murders of prostitutes including the one purported by the movie FROM HELL about a maniacal doctor going on a rampage to preserve the royal bloodlines and eliminate all prostitutes.

WHEN WE TOUCH balances two basic plots: the romance between Lady Maggie Graham and Lord Jamie Langdon, and Maggie's noble perseverance to aid East End people living in poverty, especially prostitutes. Maggie also endeavors to uncover schemers during the Victorian era such as spiritualists communing for a seance which supposedly reunites grieving people with their deceased loved ones. Maggie's humanitarian activities in the decrepit part of London (East End) eventually lead to the Jack-the-Ripper plot. The sparse moments of romance and dull love scenes between Maggie and Jamie take a firm backseat to Maggie's escapades in East End and a spiritualist out to get her. I appreciated the book's attempt at a thrilling, nail-biting plot intermingled by an entertaining, yet combative romantic interaction, but I found the whole read still fairly dry.

The Premise.

Maggie's brother the Baron Justin Graham finds himself deep in debt. Widowed years ago, Maggie helps her brother avoid debtor's prison by agreeing to marry the doddering Viscount Charles Langdon old enough to be Maggie's grandfather. Charles' protective nephew Jamie Langdon catches Maggie's eyes and each enjoy an early tumultuous relationship. Jamie mistrusts Maggie and Maggie detests Jamie for believing the worst of her. When Charles' embittered daughter Arianna arrives for the wedding, sparks fly between Arianna and Maggie's brother Justin.

Meanwhile, Maggie's continued efforts in East End to uncover fraudulent schemers and help the impoverished place her in more and more danger. Jamie keeps an eye on her to make sure she doesn't cheat on his elderly uncle and instead ends up rescuing her from a seance plotted by dangerous people. Adrian Alexander is one of these dangerous people. Alexander escapes capture and vows to exact vengeance on the woman who uncovers his scheme: Maggie. When Arianna entangles herself with Alexander to oust her stepmother Maggie, Maggie must save her bitter stepdaughter Arianna.

The first half of the book mostly chronicles Maggie and Jamie's truculent relationship climaxing at Maggie's wedding with Jamie's uncle the Viscount Charles Langdon. In the background, we hear about brutal murders of prostitutes in the first half of the book. The storyline with the murders and Jack the Ripper monopolizes the second half of the book however and endlessly stretches this tiresome book. The pacing seemed to stagnate quite a bit during the second half as the focus shifted away from the romance. I'd enjoy the oblique plot with Maggie's seances and the brutal murders if it was handled in a darkly interesting way.

Again, not a bad novel and it seemed to offer more than the stereotypical romance storyline but still suffered from an uninteresting plot dealing with Jack the Ripper. I'd imagine Drake's strengths mostly rest with the medieval era.

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