After the death of his sweetheart when he was at university, Daniel Herbert buried his grief in medical studies and his passion for healing. Viewed as a saint by those who know him, in his own mind he never quite manages to live up to his own high standards.
Most men would be thrilled to learn they’ve inherited a title and estate from a distant relative, but Daniel is appalled because the burden of wealth will interfere with his medical calling. Warily he accepts that he must enter society and seek a wife—a sensible woman who can oversee his properties, leaving him free to continue his work. He does not expect to become intoxicated by a woman called the Black Widow, who is as mysterious as she is shockingly beautiful…
Jessie Kelham’s looks have always been a curse. Now alone with a young daughter and a perilous secret, she is in need of protection. But dangerously attractive Daniel Herbert is not the kind of husband she has in mind. If he recognizes her, the demons of her past will surely erupt. Yet they cannot keep apart—and soon they are drawn into a union that may bring joy—or shattering danger…
Sourc: ARC from Zebra (Kensington Books) via NetGalley
There is a lot going on in this book, and yet, strangely, it also has a slow, steady build-up before racing towards the end – so that there are long stretches where nothing much happens, followed by a short bit where everything does. Daniel is the saint of the title, and unlike the title, he really is saintly at all times. He’s an ordained vicar, although he doesn’t actively preach, and has spent most of his life working in the free hospital he founded in Bristol. Which is where we find him at the start of this book, in a hasty scene that establishes him as a doctor with a badly beaten female patient, who he helps out and strangely knows he will one day meet again…
The action continues some seven years later with Daniel fresh into a new and unexpected inheritance. Again, this scene felt oddly short and a bit jerky as we learn his parents are dead, although he’s not that bothered about it, in fact he’s happy in his hospital – oh, and he’s now a baron. Drat! How inconvenient it will be to inherit vast wealth, numerous estates and a voice in parliament. It’s not like he’s trying to change the world or anything. Guess he’ll have to go to London to find a wife who will do all the hard work while he continues being a doctor.
Then we meet Jessie. Again, in a bit of a jumpy collection of scenes her husband dies, there’s a surprise in the will and her husband’s nephew proves to be a very nasty character indeed. So she’ll need a new husband, because she has no powerful relatives. Luckily, she has powerful friends, so off she toddles to the capital to find herself a man.
I actually did enjoy this book, despite the stark beginning and convenient connections. Daniel is a very good man – nice and patient and understanding, while Jessie is a woman who has been through a lot (an awful lot) and has come out mostly stronger for it. They strike sparks off each other every time they meet, Daniel is constantly struck by her beauty, Jessie doesn’t think herself good enough for him, and so on and so forth. It’s all quite a familiar tale, but told in an enjoyable way. This keeps things occupied for the first half of the book in a steady, meandering way.
And then the first revelation arrives. Not entirely unexpected, but it felt somewhat over the top. Then another revelation as Daniel finally makes a few connections. Then we hear Jessie’s history and more revelations, which aren’t surprising, but it becomes rather a lot when added to everything else. There’s also a teasing dark undercurrent, hinting that past mistakes are going to come back to haunt everyone. Which leads to an exciting ending – that isn’t always quite as exciting as it might be. However, it does help keep things interesting, even if it does stretch the bounds of credulity a bit far here and there.
I think my biggest issue with everything is that all the troubles and darkness belongs to Jessie. Daniel really is perfect. He is a good man who has led a blameless life, and although he has been touched by sadness here and there, it doesn’t really affect him too strongly. While everything that could go wrong in Jessie’s life seems to have done and be coming back around for another go. It’s all a little unbalanced and close to being too much at times. I think it might have been nice if Daniel had been given at least one flaw, or a mistake, or something to make him seem more human, while perhaps Jessie could have been granted a few less troubles.
So overall it’s not perfect. The romance is nice enough, the story is okay and the writing is enjoyable. I liked both Jessie and Daniel, but I didn’t love either of them, and there are definite touches of soap opera style melodrama towards the end. However, if you want something easy and enjoyable that really doesn’t demand too much attention, with a lovely historical gloss over it all, then you might well enjoy this. I did, even if I won’t be in a rush to read it again any time soon.
Not Always a Saint is out August 25th!
Visit Mary Jo Putney for more details.