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by Marion Chesney
St Martin's Minotaur, April 2005
224 pages
ISBN: 0312329644

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I've long had the feeling that Marion Chesney was publishing her notes instead of a full novel, and SICK OF SHADOWS doesn't change that. The book is slender, told mostly in exposition (the few scenes with dialogue are usually one character repeating to another character what the author has already told the reader), has no character development at all, and the plot careens from one contrivance to another with little set-up.

Chesney was the pen-name created by M C Beaton to write romances, and thus the book is more involved with Harry and Rose figuring out their relationship than it is with finding out who murdered Dolly the unhappy debutante. The courtship, which has stretched for several books already, is filled with the sort of misunderstandings, miscommunications, and misplaced feelings that could be cleared up with five minutes' honest conversation -- but that would make the book shorter, and at 215 pages, it can't afford the cuts.

So Harry and Rose keep missing each other's meanings while someone else keeps missing Rose with randomly fired shots. Why is someone shooting at her? We're told it's because "she might know something" but you'd think that the murderer would realize that public assassination is hardly the way to keep things quiet.

However to keep her safe -- and to bolster the tissue-thin plot with some pointless action -- Rose is shipped all over the country. She is exiled to the furthest reaches of society, only to be outed by a photograph (the book makes it seem as though this took only a few days, when a magazine competition and publication would take weeks, if not months). So she is summarily sent back to London and saddled with one of Harry's relatives solely for the purpose of setting up yet another misunderstanding with him. When these perils of Pauline run out of steam, we have blackmail, a carriage chase, and a car wreck to liven things up.

Adding to the unevenness is a common failing of the Chesney titles: narrative-stopping historical digressions everywhere. When Rose and her maid go to Fortnum and Mason's to eat a snack, we get a paragraph-long explanation of how the company was founded. I wish she had just let them eat cake.

I know that the author, both as Beaton and Chesney, can do better. I've read and enjoyed plenty of titles under both names. But not SICK OF SHADOWS. It is nothing but the sketchy outline of an improbable book idea.

Reviewed by Linnea Dodson, May 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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