The Price of Desire

Jo Goodman
2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Zebra, $6.99, 439 pages, Amazon ASIN 1420101749
Part of a series

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

In The Price of Desire we meet Alistair Cole, one of those wastrel brothers whom we often encounter in romances set in the 19th century. He likes to gamble, especially in the hell run by Griffith Wright-Jones, the Viscount Breckenridge. When Cole loses over 1,000 pounds, Griffith takes his heirloom emerald ring as a marker, but overnight the ring disappears and in its place thereís a note from Cole offering his sister Olivia as his marker until he can make good on the debt.

When a couple of men come to fetch Olivia, she reacts with deady calm. She and Alistair are living in a rented home (they are in arrears) and they owe.....everybody. Maybe this Jones character will at least be kind, and she might even have warmth and food and a place to stay with at least some security. Things canít be much worse for her.

Olivia settles in at Griffithís place of business and he finds himself feeling very protective and concerned about her. Olivia is terribly thin, and her clothing is shabby. She is from a good family, so why is she living with a wastrel brother in poverty and want while her father is still alive?

I canít go too much further without spoiling everything. I will warn you that this is a very dark book that treats some very uncomfortable subjects. However, Jo Goodman does not wallow in the darkness and treats her subject with sensitivity and restraint. Still there were times I was very uncomfortable.

The characters in The Price of Desire are rich and alive. Griffith Wright-Jonesís father spent everything he had and left his son with nothing but a pile of debts. The gambling hell that Griffith runs is all he has, and he has carefully managed it into a lucrative business. His private life is a mess. Griffithís wife was an amoral, evil woman who made his life a misery, and his latest mistress Alys is no better . Griffith is at heart a very kind man (as can be seen in his treatment of his employees and his care for Oliva) and he wants to do what he can to help her, but he is stopped by her reserve. Griffith isnít a know it all and he makes his share of mistakes when he tries to pierce through Oliviaís shell, but he is a realistic character, he is larger than life, but not so much so that he becomes a caricature.

Olivia is a wounded heroine Ė one wounded to her core. I canít say much more, since it would be a major spoiler, but she has lived through a hell that no one should have to live through. She doesnít talk about it, but she has internalized her feelings of guilt, and worthlessness that she has covered with a calm and cool exterior. Griffith doesnít magically take away all her pain Ė her journey to healing is a slow one, but it is more realistic because it is a protracted one.

This book came very close to being a DIK, but my sense of justice needed more closure than I got. The evil ones who ruined Oliviaís childhood did not get their just punishments. I donít think they will be allowed to continue their activities Ė since they know that Griffith will be watching, but I honestly wanted them to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Iíve heard such good things about Jo Goodman for so long, but I had not read any of her books until now. I see now what all the praise is about. Goodman is a thoughtful and intelligent writer who can make her characters live and breathe on the page. I see she has a very large backlist and I havenít had a good glom in a long time.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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