15 August, 2012

Review: The Way To A Duke's Heart by Caroline Linden

Yea, go ahead and buy it.

I love almost everything about this book. I like everything on the cover from the color balance to the "Bitch, please" stare of the heroine. Linden finishes her The Truth About The Duke series with the best of the three. (I admit I had my concerns about this one.) Having reviewed both the prior books I decided to finish the series out. I'm so glad I stuck with Linden. In fact, I liked The Way To A Duke's Heart so much I think you should go ahead and start there. Nothing really happens in the prior books that is vital to the third. Look, I'll get you ready. There's this Duke In Waiting named Charlie. He's got two brothers and an inheritance issue. His brothers have tried to help but both of them wised up and dumped the ball back where it belongs. Charlie has had enough time to feel sorry for himself and work on his Daddy Issues. It's crunch time. (That's it. You're good to go.)

Our heroine is an awkward businesswoman on a mission. With her brother considering investment in the latest canal scheme Tessa is off to investigate the legitimacy of this enterprise. Trusted by her family, unable to trust those outside it, Tessa doesn't want to suck up to a charmer in the hotel lobby. Since Tessa might hold the key to Charlie's dilemma, he charms her elderly companion instead. Tessa says ok, whatever, that's cool. I've got books to audit and swamps to slog. You do you, Charlie. I'm busy doing me. Which she does. Sadly for Tessa, Charlie is trying to do her too. (But not that way.) He pretends an interest in the canal investment as a pretext for investigating Tessa's involvement in his dilemma. Continuing Linden's tradition of bucking some time honored Regency conventions it turns out that Tessa is a completely disinterested bystander. She has nothing at all to do with the mysterious blackmailer that's been mucking up Charlie's life. Nor is she willing to be a diversion while Charlie evades his responsibilities.

The evolution of Charlie from sulky party boy to Duke Of Tessa's Dreams is very well done. Both characters know who they are and (more importantly) why they are. Tessa and Charlie offer each other the same thing - someone to take them seriously and hold them accountable. Charlie respects Tessa's intelligence. As a man well aware of his own shortcomings he can easily see the strength in hers. For her part, Tessa has no experience of him. She sees a man well positioned to make changes in people's lives so she expects him to do so. While she guides him toward responsibility he leads her into frivolity. They are well suited to each other and to the plot. It's a nice balance Linden maintains for almost the whole of the book. My only complaint about The Way To A Duke's Heart arrives shortly after The Truth About The Duke is revealed. The truth itself is satisfying in content and execution. The events just following that are a failure for me. In exploring his past Charlie falls into one of my genre pet peeves. "If I had sex with you and you're not the hero / heroine, you completely suck." Yes, Charlie has a Crazy Bitch Ex in his past (as does Tessa) and the CBE briefly becomes the books focus. Handled just a little differently the CBE would have lifted the book from very good to possibly brilliant. As it stands the CBE bogs us down before being swept to the side as Tessa and Charlie get on with the getting on.

If you've been following the series or not, The Way To A Duke's Heart is a fun read. I like Linden's way with characterization. With this book the author moves off my TBR and onto my auto-buy list. (If nothing else, her strong voice knocked Charlie Sheen out of my mind for the entire read. I didn't think that was going to be possible.)

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