Friends in Low Places

What we have here is a beach read. That's not a dismissive term, at least not to me. But there are good beach reads, bad beach reads, even great beach reads. This is a good beach read that occasionally skirts the edge of great and bad.

A beach read needs a plot that is interesting without being overly complex, characters which are interesting with at least one full on detestable character and, most importantly, a narrative drive set to turbo. That doesn't mean fast-paced, it means that the story needs to propel the reader along. Scott Thurow's Presumed Innocent is an example of a great beach read that has a touch of literary credibility. Back in the day Judith Krantz delivered good beach reads without any redeeming qualities.

The Devlin Diary is not only a beach read, it is two books in one which makes it hard to avoid being overly complex. Story A is set in Restoration England and involves a female physician who gets caught up in series of murders Story B, and I choose my letters carefully, is set in modern day Cambridge University involves a female fellow caught up in a murder. The woman, Hannah Devlin, in Story A is strong, smart and resourceful. The woman, Claire Donovan, in Story B is a ninny. At least it cuts down on the complexity.

And that is the dilemma in a nutshell. Story A is good. The pacing is right, the anachronisms are very few, and the characters surprisingly well-drawn. The plot doesn't completely hold up but it's really a vehicle for Hannah to find good husband material in the veritable cesspool of morals that was King Charles II's court. Story B just lays there, repeatedly referencing the rollicking adventures in the author's previous book without managing to make me want to read it and leaving it's heroine wondering why the cute guy she has a crush on isn't paying attention to her. Which might be fine if this were a teen novel and the heroine were fourteen. Fortunately Story B takes up only about a third of the book but every time the action ground to a halt with a switch to present day England I wondered why Christi Phillips bothered with it. She does well with historical fiction, she might even have the makings of a Rose Tremain. Claire Donovan doesn't make the historical portion any more accessible and, really, who wants to read about their heroine deploying her awesome translation skills?

Still, this is a beach reach and judge by those standards this is a good read overall. Take it for what it is and you'll have fun.

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