The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla
Framed by a modern-day story of a doctoral student discovering new information about the Napoleonic era, we’re soon off on a new adventure in the series that started in 2004 with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. The added twist is a rage, then as now, with vampires. This time, our heroine Sally Fitzhugh’s chaperone’s next-door neighbor Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is thought to be one. She meets him in his creepy garden. (“The Duke of Belliston arched one brow. ‘Has anyone warned you that strange plants might have thorns?’/ ‘Has anyone ever told you that it is exceedingly annoying to speak in aphorisms?’… / ‘It tends to truncate conversation quite effectively.’ Sally wasn’t accustomed to allowing herself to be truncated.”) And we’re off and running.
Lucien turns out to be a haunted young man, late of Louisiana with a mystery to solve… the death of his parents twelve years before. He is trying to come to grips with his family tragedy and take on the responsibilities of his estate. Soon a woman is found blood-drained and the “vampire slayings” become more than rumor. Lucien and Sally team up in delightful fashion, matching wits and intelligence to find out who is trying to frame him. The adventurous Sally is a great partner, and their sense of humor remains intact through the angst.
Author Willig again hits the sweet spot mix of history and romance, with wonderful character development, appealing leads, goofy cohorts and a good galloping plot. Balls, period details and effervescent dialogue spark the more serious proceedings. That The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is a great send-up of vampire culture is a delightful bonus.