4.5 stars, rounded up to five because -- it's the Mackenzies!
I adore the Mackenzies, so there was little doubt that I would enjoy this novella featuring Chief Inspector Lloyd Fellows, illegitimate half-brother to Hart, Cam, Mac, and Ian. We've had glimpses of him before; in [b:The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie|5981872|The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #1)|Jennifer Ashley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1322336718s/5981872.jpg|6155268], he was something of a villain, determined to pin a couple of murders of prostitutes on Hart and Ian. But when Ian's new wife, Beth, figured out that Fellows was a Mackenzie by birth, the family immediately embraced the man, and his mother, whom their late, unlamented father had cruelly ignored. Ian, who noticed everything but didn't always understand what he had seen, figured out immediately how Fellows fit into the family.
“All of us are mad in some way,” Ian said. “I have a memory that won’t let go of details. Hart is obsessed with politics and money. Cameron is a genius with horses, and Mac paints like a god. You find out details on your cases that others miss. You are obsessed with justice and getting everything you think is coming to you. We all have our madness. Mine is just the most obvious.”
In [b:Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage|7070067|Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage (Highland Pleasures, #2)|Jennifer Ashley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1322336962s/7070067.jpg|7323377], Fellows helped find the man who was trying to kill Mac, and he once again practiced his crime-solving skills in [b:The Duke's Perfect Wife|8563829|The Duke's Perfect Wife (Highland Pleasures, #4)|Jennifer Ashley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1317220977s/8563829.jpg|13432302]. Moreover, he had his first personal encounter with Lady Louisa Scranton, younger sister of Mac's wife Isabella, when she brazenly dared to kiss him. Their encounter was brief but portentous:
He was not quite sure what had just changed in his life, but the world felt different, and he would make certain that he and Louisa continued to explore what had begun in this room.
Fellows and Louisa shared another, more passionate, kiss under the mistletoe in [b:A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift|16181686|A Mackenzie Family Christmas The Perfect Gift (Highland Pleasures, #4.5)|Jennifer Ashley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1354287117s/16181686.jpg|22084554]. Afterward, however, he returned to his solid middle class life in London, while Lady Louisa resumed socializing with all of her aristocratic friends. Both of them recognized their unsuitability, and yet . . . :
Mr. Fellows, a working-class man with scandalous connections and illegitimate birth, was a most ineligible bachelor. But he kissed like fire, and he’d stirred a longing in Louisa’s heart she’d never forgotten.
That is the set-up for the events in this wonderful novella, where Louisa is an unlikely murder suspect in a crime that Fellows is assigned to investigate.
Before that, however, the story opens with a heart-rending flashback scene where a very young Fellows contrives to reveal himself to his father. Not surprisingly, it doesn't work out well. His hatred and resentment toward the Mackenzies has disappeared, but Fellows still does not feel comfortable moving about in their world. Now, he must interrogate a bunch of toffs to figure out which of them murdered the Bishop of Hargate at a fancy garden party in Richmond. Louisa is the obvious culprit, but he knows
she could not be guilty, and he doesn't think twice about lying and covering up evidence in his quest to find the real murderer. I doubt that they ever would have gotten together though if Louisa had not taken the initiative.
It is great fun to see all of the Mackenzie brothers, their wives, and their children, but as in the Christmas novella, Daniel Mackenzie (Cam's nineteen-year-old son) steals every scene that he is in. If you're eagerly awaiting his book, due out on October 1, 2013, you'll be tantalized by the excerpt at the end of this novella.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, but deducted half a star for two reasons. First, Fellows solved the mystery, but there was virtually no evidence against the murderer. As a lawyer, and mystery fan, I just needed to see more than Fellows' clever deductions. And second, please don't ask me to believe that Louisa and Fellows would have succumbed to their passion in a horse barn at the Newmarket race course with thousands of people around. I know they're supposed to be carried away by lust, but really.