Leila Beaumont's faithless husband, Francis, is a participant in nearly every vice known to man. He also enjoys playing mind games and manipulating others to bend them to his will. When Francis is found murdered, Leila becomes the prime suspect, because of a heated argument they'd had not long before his death. The Crown has an interest in keeping Francis' illegal activities under wraps, so in spite of the possibility that Leila might be guilty, the Home Office expedites her inquest and suppresses evidence to get the matter out of the public eye quickly. While Leila was not the killer, she does know a bit more about Francis' death than she originally told investigators. When her guilty conscience gets the better of her, Leila goes to the head of the Home Office with her information. Still wanting to keep things quiet, but also wanting to calm the lady's unsettled feelings about her husband's death, he puts his best and most discreet investigator on the case.
Ismal Delvina aka the Compte d'Esmond has a rather sordid criminal past himself, including an indirect role in the death of Leila's father ten years earlier. As repayment for his debt to society, Ismal has been working as an investigator and spy for the Home Office, dealing with some of the most heinous offenses. He has been carrying a torch for the beautiful artist, Leila, ever since they met while he was investigating her husband's illegal dealings in Paris months earlier. Now that he has been asked to probe Francis' death, Ismal will be working in very close proximity with the object of his desire, as she has insisted on having a direct involvement in the case. As their mutual attraction builds into something more, Ismal and Leila must deal with the constant stress of the inquiry, and even if the culprit is found and Leila's concerns put to rest, there is still the matter of Ismal's wicked past which could present a stumbling block to their fledgling relationship.
I first read Loretta Chase's fabulous book, Lord of Scoundrels, over a year ago, and the book, as well as it's hero and heroine, still remain among my top 10 favorites today. I discovered, after reading Lord of Scoundrels, that it was part of a series, and there were two books which came before it. Having loved it so much, I was quite anxious to check out those other books, but I have to say that by comparison both have greatly disappointed me. While I did see a few faint glimmers of the writing style from Lord of Scoundrels, neither book, and Captives of the Night in particular, lived up to it's superior standard in my opinion. In fact there were times that I found it difficult to believe that the same author had written both books. I found Captives of the Night to be very heavy on the mystery element of the story to the point of overshadowing the romance, and in the end, neither aspect ever really grabbed my attention. To me, the book was very dry and lackluster, with no action to speak of at all. From my perspective, it mainly consisted of rather dull conversations, social interactions, and some character introspection. The first 2/3 of the book seemed to move at a snail's pace, and although the last 1/3 picked up a little, it was not enough to be really compelling. Overall, I'm afraid it was very much a let down for me.
As I already mentioned, neither the mystery nor the romance really struck a chord with me. In most of the mystery stories I have read, the author usually creates a line-up of potential suspects right from the start, dropping clues and hints of possible motives along the way, and making the reader think that each one may be the culprit. In Captives of the Night, the heroine is the first one to be suspected of her husband's murder, but of course we know that she cannot be the guilty party. As for who might be, the implication is made that nearly everyone in London hated him and may have had a motive. From there, each of the suspects were basically introduced individually, and thoroughly vetted by the hero and heroine's investigative skills to the point that I no longer took any of them seriously as the potential killer. This gave the feel of a very tedious 19th century procedural examination of a murder case that held little interest for me. It was probably very close to the reality of criminal investigation, even in the present day, but in my opinion, did not make for very compelling storytelling. I really prefer when the author of a mystery leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow, so that I can attempt to figure out the bad guy for myself. In Captives of the Night, each little piece of the puzzle is laid out far too neatly, giving me virtually nothing about which to speculate. Admittedly, the real murderer was the person I least expected, so in that way I suppose it was somewhat well done. However, the reveal ended up being pretty anti-climactic. In addition, the romance aspect of the story fell completely flat for me. Except for one or two extremely brief moments, I felt no real emotion or true spark of passion between Ismal and Leila, not even any palpable sexual tension. I was simply never able to fully grasp what each of them was attracted to in the other, except that they seemed like two peas in a pod with rather similar personalities, perhaps too similar. They ended up arguing and vying for superiority almost constantly, which made their supposedly loving relationship very unbelievable to me.
I'm sure it didn't help matters, that I was not able to truly like either Ismal or Leila. Ismal had been the villain of the previous book, The Lion's Daughter, in which he had done some very bad things, including trying to overthrow his cousin, the leader of Albania (although he was a very distasteful character himself) and completely obsessing over the heroine of that story to the point of kidnapping and threatening to rape her. I knew that Ms. Chase was going to have to do something pretty spectacular to believably redeem Ismal in my eyes, and unfortunately, I didn't feel that she fully succeeded. She went more for the karma approach, with Ismal having repaid his "debt" both monetarily and in service to the British crown for the past ten years, but I would have preferred some good old-fashioned remorse and groveling. As it was written, it seemed like all the characters from The Lion's Daughter who appeared in Captives of the Night, had casually forgiven him and gone their merry way almost as though nothing had ever happened. Because of my knowledge of his misdeeds in the previous book, I personally was never able to fully buy into the notion of Ismal as the hero. Regrettably, Leila wasn't much easier for me to understand. I did have a little sympathy for her over her first husband's horrendous behavior, as well as his making fun of her passionate nature. I also enjoyed the couple of brief moments when she was playing the consummate seductress, and it was nice that she had cunning sleuthing skills equal to Ismal's. Otherwise though, Leila just wasn't very relatable to me. She frequently acted like a spoiled, temperamental, and generally unpleasant woman who was given to throwing tantrums. I can certainly enjoy a good spitfire heroine, but when they behave like Leila sometimes did, they just become gratingly annoying to me. Neither Ismal nor Leila ever showed any emotional vulnerability, which in my opinion, only served to make them seem like two very cold and unfeeling individuals.
Even the secondary characters were pretty one-dimensional. The only one I was able to connect with was Avory, a young man who was acquainted with Leila's husband and had been vulnerable to his manipulations. All he really wanted was to seek the hand of his one true love, but unfortunately, that unsavory association had caused nearly everyone to mistrust him. Ultimately though, Avory played such a small role in the story, he was never able to add much depth to it. As for the other characters, I didn't really have much respect for any of them. Everyone in the book, including Ismal and Leila, appeared to be moral relativists. No one was truly good or bad, not even the wretched deceased husband. All immoral behavior was brushed off in a far too casual and accepting way, with nearly everyone making excuses for everyone else. I believe that there are often shades of gray in life, but that there are also things which are simply black and white, right and wrong. Having the entire story be nothing but shades of gray absolutely drove me to distraction. While I didn't have to completely force myself to read the entire book like I have with a few others in the past, I did have to take a few breaks to read something else for a while. I'm sure that there are other readers who would enjoy this novel far more than I did, but I personally would not recommend it for anyone except perhaps, hard-core fans of Loretta Chase.
Captives of the Night is the second book in what I have sometimes seen called the Scoundrels series. The first book is The Lion's Daughter, and the ties between it and Captives of the Night are pretty significant. As I mentioned earlier, Ismal was the villain of that book and played a major role in the story. There is also a secondary character, Lady Brentmor, who has a fairly important part in both books. The third book in the series is Lord of Scoundrels, but the ties between it and Captives of the Night are extremely minimal, which would explain why I was able to read Lord of Scoundrels without really feeling like anything was missing. Ismal aka Comte d'Esmond made a very brief appearance in Lord of Scoundrels at the Vingt-Huit pleasure palace in Paris where Dain, the hero of that book, was engaging in debauchery with his friends. These two stories essentially take place simultaneously. Although I have some serious reservations at this point, I will in all likelihood read the final book, The Last Hellion, at some point just for the sake of completeness.
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