Brought to you by OBS reviewer Daniele
*Beware of mild spoilers*
In the latest Pink Carnation novel from national bestselling author Lauren Willig, rumors spreading among the ton turn deadly as a young couple unites to solve a mystery….
In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.
Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.
Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it. (Goodreads)
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is the eleventh installment in the Pink Carnation spy/historical romance/mystery series. Not having read the other adventures, I thought it held up well as a stand-alone. This novel alternates between England, 1806, and Massachusetts, 2004.
Eloise is our modern protagonist who is working on her dissertation “Aristocratic Espionage During the Wars with France 1789-1815” and has become much more interested in the people that she has been reading about during her research than the actual dissertation. She is faced with a decision that will quite possibly change her career path. In addition, she and her English boyfriend, Colin, are feeling the realities and challenges of a trans-Atlantic long distance relationship.
The historical facet of the novel follows Sally, a young member of the ton, who comes across Lucien, Duke of Belliston, on a dare in his dark garden. She is intrigued by him, a newly arrived-in-town stranger surrounded by mystery and rumored to be cursed and a vampire. Vampire fever has overtaken the aristocratic community, and when, at Lucien’s sister’s coming out party, a young woman is found dead with fang marks on her neck, it looks as if Lucian has been framed for the crime. The deceased has been staged to look like Lucien’s mother. With Sally’s assistance, he is able to flee the scene before the other guests learn of the deed, and the two of them together embark on their investigation, to determine what really happened to the unidentified dead woman and if Lucien’s parents’ deaths twelve years prior were the result of foul play not murder-suicide by poison as assumed. Are the deaths related? Was Lucien’s mother a spy for the French? Who is the deceased woman and how is she connected to it all? The two eventually pretend to be betrothed and visit Lucien’s ancestral home in search of his mother’s papers. Of course, their sham turns to real passion.
I really enjoyed this book. Ms. Willig is an eloquent writer whose love of history and adventure shine through. Many characters from other installments make appearances, along with Lucien’s family (some of whom you love to hate), and they are all well drawn, providing layers of interest. Lucien and Sally make a feisty couple. There were plenty of unexpected turns that kept the story moving and exciting, and the resolution of the mystery was satisfactory, if not completely unforeseen. Ms. Willig calls this her “Halloween book” in the author’s notes, and the vampire element is treated with fun and not at all farfetched. It would be a suitable seasonal read but can be enjoyed any time of year. I will definitely add the other books in the Pink Carnation series to my “to read” list.
I recommend The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla to fans of the series, historical romances and historical spy mysteries.