THE PERFECT PARTNER by Ursula Le Coeur

THE PERFECT PARTNER

From the "Love in New Orleans" series
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this New Orleans-set, Victorian romance, a bluestocking and a rake uneasily join forces to write an advice column.

Readers first met Vespasian Colville, 21, in 2014’s The Willing Widow. Well-known throughout New Orleans as a reprobate who drinks, gambles, and dallies with married ladies (plus women who aren’t ladies), he’s a childhood friend of Carine Bouchard, 20. But that bond ended two years ago when Vespasian broke her best friend’s heart. As the story opens in May 1887, Carine’s editor at the Daily Picayune has unpleasant news for her: He wants Vespasian to be her writing partner for her advice column. “Men against women and so forth; it’ll sell newspapers,” he predicts. Carine, a serious writer trying to get a novel published, doesn’t appreciate Vespasian’s easy assumption of the role she’s worked hard to get. Nevertheless, she does her best, even appreciating his viewpoint at times. Vespasian finds the whole thing amusing, but his attention is chiefly focused on Suzette St. Aubin, now widowed. He’s been obsessed with and devoted to her, but she remains coldly indifferent. Desperate, Vespasian obtains a voodoo potion so powerful, it’ll affect him too: “The lady who drinks this will captivate your heart, your mind, your very soul.” Carine visits Vespasian to discuss an alarming letter from a young woman who believes she’s being poisoned for her inheritance—and while waiting, mistakenly drinks the potion, which is as potent as advertised. Though Carine doesn’t remember later the immediate aftereffects, she feels a growing attraction and gets a great idea: Vespasian can give her the erotic instruction she needs to give her novel more “dynamism,” as one publisher puts it after rejecting her manuscript. It won’t mean anything to him, and it’s just research…isn’t it?

The couple’s mutual passion grows, in effective scenes of erotic exploration, but at the same time, their letter writer’s situation becomes more dire. Carine tracks down her poisoning victim, Giselle Levert, to a mountain resort where she’s been secreted. Though at first skeptical, Vespasian follows to help, ludicrously disguised in a wig and eye patch. As the two face danger and fight to save Giselle, they also realize they can no longer fight their feelings for each other. Every romance needs an obstacle, and LeCoeur (The Devious Debutante, 2015, etc.) uses the restrictions of Victorian society, manners, and dress to create a hot-then-hotter slow burn, while the voodoo potion provides a handy excuse for Carine’s boldness. A little too handy—it would be more satisfying to see the couple’s love arise without supernatural intervention. (And the idea that a realistic romance needs erotic experiences would be news to Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters.) In this fourth installment of her Love in New Orleans series, LeCoeur deftly brings out her characters’ shades of personality. Vespasian has more depth and Carine more earthiness than they at first give each other credit for. The book is well-researched, though a few anachronisms stick out: “agency” in the sense of intentional action; Carine going out in public without her corset.

An entertaining premise, growing heat, and skillful writing elevate this historical love story.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-692-90772-6
Page count: 284pp
Publisher: Royal Street Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
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