Through the Smoke – Brenda Novak

novaksmokecoverThe closest approximation of Brenda Novak‘s Through the Smoke would be, in my opinion, an ingenious hybrid of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and Daphne DuMaurier’s iconic Gothic novel Rebecca. I expected that I would like the story as who can resist a good mystery and I particularly enjoy the ones where the answers are often locked within the heroine or in this case heroes own mind. Yet Through the Smoke vastly exceeded my expectations.

The Earl of Druridge receives a letter from his lady wife informing him that he is going to be a father. Determined that he has been cuckolded he is resolved that he is going to confront his wife and obtain a divorce by any means necessary. Two years later his wife is long dead by fire and he has still no memory of the events that precipitated this. The threat of the noose from his deceased wife’s parents forces him to try and find the killer before he swings.

Rachel McTavish, the beautiful daughter of a coal miner, knows something about the fire that took Lady Katherine’s life. In secret, the strong-willed girl strikes a bargain with the desperate earl: he must send his physician to help her dying mother or he may go to the scaffold—and the devil. The earl agrees, but Rachel is still unsure that her revelation will be enough to save him when so many wish him dead.

Passionately drawn to the nobleman, despite all the doubt and mystery that shrouds him, Rachel wonders if he can really be a murderer. Or if he is the only man who will ever own her heart…

After a somewhat slow start I found myself becoming completely entranced by the at first bleak and then increasingly  malevolent atmosphere of Novak’s latest offering. The relationship that develops between the miner’s daughter, whose father may have been connected to his wife’s death, and the betrayed Earl is complex and fascinating.

Rachel is alone in the world, her father and brother casualties of the local mine, for which she holds the Earl responsible. Following their initial meeting Rachel’s feelings are increasingly conflicted, she is torn between loyalty to the local villagers and her growing feelings for the Earl. As they become closer the townspeople, his cousin and even members of the Earl’s staff react with increasing hostility.

The arsonist could be one of a myriad of characters or even the Earl himself, Novak has penned a truly engrossing tale with so many obvious suspects that you have no idea who killed Katherine or why, or how this unlikely couple could find happiness together. This is the first historical that I have read by this author but it definitely won’t be the last.

AUTHOR: Brenda Novak

RATING: 3 1/2 Stars

GENRE: Historical Romance

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review. 

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