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 McKinney (A Man to Slay Dragons, 1995, etc.) writes an old-fashioned gothic to which she adds a little S&M. On the bleak and misty Yorkshire moors lies the ancestral home of the Newells, Cairncross Castle, looking ``like a gargoyle crouched by the sea.'' It is here that Alexandra Benjamin comes to help and work with a 30-year-old man with the mind of a child. She is the daughter of a Jewish doctor (an ``infidel'') who specialized in audiology and taught Alex everything he knew. After his death, Alex, pretending to be a man, accepts a commission from John Damien Newell to teach his brother Sam to speak again. Sam has apparently been struck dumb by something he saw one day in the Roman catacombs that underlie the castle, and both boys were severely traumatized by their childhood governess--the evil, flame-haired Ursula Pole, whose ghost haunts the castle and walks the moors. Lord Newell, when he discovers that Alex Benjamin is really a woman, decides to let her stay on in the role of governess. He's attracted by her self-assurance, her goodness and optimism. Since Ursula's death, Newell has been dominated by the dark side of his personality, never letting himself be vulnerable to the love of a good woman; instead, he spends his time with his London mistress, to whom he administers whippings (in Wapping). Fearing that he'll be persuaded to change his nasty habits, Newell tries to seduce Alex to his evil, ungentle ways. Alex takes a very long time figuring out that the poor tormented baron didn't kill Ursula, who sexually assaulted him when he was a boy. Tedium relieved only by unintentionally humorous prose (``But once the dam broke into madness, there was no bucket large enough to put the water back''), in a work often bordering on camp.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-57566-136-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Kensington
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1996


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