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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Bilson

An Unwilling Earl by Sharon Cullen

There’s a few intriguingly different plotlines happening in this story which mesh together to create an overall very interesting story. A serial killer in Victorian London is killing young servant women and dumping headless, handless bodies into the Thames. In a seemingly unrelated matter, a solicitor inherits an earldom and is almost simultaneously approached by a lady looking for her missing niece.

While Jacob has no intention of taking the case on, by chance he runs into Charlotte, the missing girl, disguised as a boy and hiding in one of London’s worst rookeries. Unable to imagine what could drive any gently bred young woman to prefer living in such a place to staying with her family, he offers his aid and slowly Charlotte comes to trust him, though at first she only asks for his assistance in leaving for America where she hopes to find work and make a new life.

Jacob is a charming beta hero; a widower who loved his first wife, he slowly transitions to being concerned about Charlotte’s well-being to admiring her resilience and determination, to loving her. He never tries to force her into anything or tell her he knows what’s best for her, though, which is such a refreshing change to most romance heroes. And while Charlotte surviving in the rookery might seem unbelievable, when the reader finally understands she was literally in fear of her life, and with excellent reason, it becomes more understandable. Terror is a great motivator, and it’s not as though she was thriving - she was terrified and slowly starving when Jacob offered his aid, and she was still wary enough to flee at first.

Charlotte is pretty sure she knows who the killer is, and even why he’s doing it, and it’s gratifying that Jacob takes her seriously right from the beginning. Luckily, through his occupation he has connections at Scotland Yard, but it was frustrating that the investigator on the case basically dismissed Charlotte’s information because the culprit was rich and titled and they’d pre-determined that ‘rich people don’t do things like this’. It’s sadly still true even today that victims, particularly women, aren’t believed just because the accused are rich and/or famous. Times really haven’t changed all THAT much.

Though there are a few familiar tropes here, there are also some really original ideas which change things up, and it’s a very believable romance between the two main leads. The historical setting is well done and there’s nothing anachronistic which caught my eye, which means the author’s done some thorough research. This is a proper historical romantic suspense and a really good one in that uncommon sub-genre. I’m giving it 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.

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