By Leslie P. García, author of Unattainable
When romance authors and readers are asked about their first romance, I’ve seen a number of titles. I usually claim Rosemary Roger’s Sweet, Savage Love — a sexy, daring read at the time — but when I think, I know that’s not true. Long before that I read Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess (yeah, I know. Romantic poetry — but I’ll get to my point — I promise.) and Phyllis Whitney. All those works were rich in description editors and many readers would object to, today, and most of them were romantic suspense–love stories fraught with danger, murder, perhaps and mystery.
So when Crimson Romance decided to expose a new generation of readers to Dorothy Fletcher, and invited me to touch on The Late Contessa, I jumped at the chance. Unfamiliar with Ms. Fletcher, I wondered exactly what I’d find, as a writer, and more importantly, as a reader. Would I have to fight to keep negative opinions to myself? Ms. Fletcher is now, after all, a label mate, a fellow Crimsonista — and I couldn’t attack someone not here to defend herself, right?
Fortunately, as baseball great Yogi Berra noted, The Last Contessa is “déjà vu all over again,” but made better by being an original.
The Late Contessa, originally published in 1971, introduces Barbara Loomis, undoubtedly the epitome of feisty, liberated women of that time — a time I shared with Barbara, but without the chain-smoking, assertive, and competent demeanor that captivated previous readers and made me grin a little at memories. Ms. Fletcher paints Barbara, her parents, and the circumstances leading to a deadly intrigue with painstaking care.
No murders, or escapes on the first two or three pages, as is usual in much romantic suspense today, but those precise little details included in Barbara’s story become the incidents that, from winding road to dead dog, become a web of evil, and create suspense that leaves the reader a little afraid to turn the page. The danger doesn’t recede; it feeds on itself and becomes more deadly.
So many elements are still popular in The Late Contessa and romantic suspense today — fallen royal families, unexpected inheritances, rival lovers who are certifiably hot — that the story won’t seem dated. Well, except for the chain-smoking characters, who might still resonate with some among us. But for readers who celebrate the roots of today’s determined young women, and lust after men cloaked in danger — you’ll rejoice that Dorothy Fletcher’s works have been brought back.
Other fun considerations that link the romantic suspense of today and yesteryear? You’ve discussed situational ethics, right? Maybe embracing the idea, when it suited, or condemning those who escape consequences because of situational ethics? Apparently, the concept isn’t new, either to us or to well-crafted romantic suspense.
Oh, and before I forget — the relationship between Browning’s well-known poem and The Late Contessa? No spoilers, but…who’s for a little death in Italia?