Title: Secret Admirer
Author: Michelle Jaffe
Publisher: Diversion Books
Release Date: January 2014
Length: 349 pages
Series?: The Arboretti Family #4
Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller
She’s got murder in mind.
Lady Tuesday Arlington has always used her painting as a refuge from the nightmares that plague her sleep. When her husband is murdered in a setting that uncannily resembles one of Tuesday’s paintings, the young widow becomes the prime suspect.
Lawrence Pickering, the Earl of Arden and an investigator in service of Queen Elizabeth I, begins to follow Tuesday’s every move, certain of her guilt—until Tuesday becomes a target herself. Intrigued by her knowledge of the crime scenes as well as her stunning beauty, Lawrence vows to protect her. But how can he stop a killer who appears capable of the impossible—invading Tuesday’s mind?
***** Review *****
Tuesday paints to escape her nightmares. She paints marvelous copies and beautiful portraits for her family’s livelihood with her dear friend George fronting as the artist. She has adopted the three children who live next door that come and go at all hours. She takes in the vagabonds and gives them a home and a purpose, even when the finances are already stretched thin. She finds a way to make do.
Until her husband is murdered and one of her paintings is the murder scene. She becomes Lawrence Pickering’s single suspect, and Tuesday’s evasiveness drives him even further down the road of conviction. He quickly finds she is an oddity after watching her every move. Tuesday just knows too much. Things happen too neatly. It’s like the killer is in Tuesday’s subconscious. As the surveillance goes on, what everyone has joked as Tuesday’s gifts from her Secret Admirer turn darker, and deadlier. Lawrence moves beyond Tuesday as the suspect, but the Secret Admirer is so clever and cunning at getting close to Tuesday and then disappearing into thin air.
Tuesday – a strong woman who cares more for how others feel than herself; she has endured a lot of heartache at the hands of men
Curtis – Tuesday’s husband; exploited her family
George – Tuesday’s close friend who helps support her family by posing as a brilliant artist; he asks Tuesday daily if she will run away and marry him
CeCe – Tuesday’s maid and friend; beautiful and charming
Lawrence – the Earl of Arden; one of Queen Elizabeth’s prime investigators
Grub – Lawrence’s right-hand man
Tom – a young man in Lawrence’s investigation; served with Lawrence in Spain
I thought George’s unwavering and silly proposals to Tuesday were quite sweet…but they would get annoying after a while.
“George, it is very kind of you to offer, but I must say no. It would utterly destroy our friendship – you know how messy I am, and how you hate chaos.”
“I would learn to live with it.”
“No. Your esteem means too much to me.”
“Now be serious, princess. I’ve got it all planned out.”
I recognized in the previous books the pattern of the main male and main female characters, so I kind of had an idea of what I was getting into, but Tuesday surprised me beyond imagination.
Lady Tuesday Arlington is such a flawed character that her character – her nature – is stunningly beautiful. She was born under the worst of circumstances for a family of tradition, and continues to be the bane of her father’s existence.
She felt tears prick the back of her eyes, not because of the ruined painting – no one was ever going to see it, so it hardly mattered – but at this further proof of what she already knew: she always ruined everything. It had been like that from the day she was born – on a Monday, instead of on a Tuesday like every other woman in her mother’s family since the time of William the Conqueror – and continued with no appearance of abatement.
They had given her the maternal family name, Tuesday, despite her lapse of breeding and she bore the paternal surname, Worthington, but she wore them, like ill-affixed labels. She did not fit in with her family, did not look like any of them, could not sing or play the lute or do embroidery like them. Six generations of Worthingtons had been ladies in waiting to the queens of England by merit of their extraordinary skills as needle-women. But everything Tuesday touched just unraveled.
Even as a grown woman, supporting the household, she is nothing but a disaster in her father’s eyes. Obviously she is to blame for making her husband, Curtis, leave. Their relationship unravels throughout the novel, just as Tuesday feels she unravels everything she touches. What is revealed through multiple characters is so heartbreaking, and it begins to change Lawrence’s opinion of Tuesday, or at least see her in a different light. She is the kind of woman who brings out the protective nature in him. Lawrence’s impression and revelation of Tueday’s description is quite striking:
She was taller than average, with hair the color of autumn grass, and she was holding a badly knotted gold cord in her hands. Her eyes – the gray-green of summer thunderheads before a storm and, Lawrence suspected, capable of flashing like them – rested on his face, but she was not meeting his gaze.
George Lyle, Tuesday’s devoted friend and her cover as the brilliant artist, is a very interesting man. He has jealous tendencies, especially of CeCe and the Burns children next door. He prefers to have Tuesday all to himself, and their friendship was quite comical most of the time.
He took a sip from the glass on Tuesday’s work table, choked, and put it back. “What the devil is that?”
“Water,” Tuesday replied, vaguely amused. “It comes – ”
“I know where it comes from.” George wiped his mouth on his hand and stared at her as if she had tried to poison him.
George and CeCe seem to compete for Tuesday’s attentions, and both are very needy characters. Lawrence at one point observes that Tuesday seems to be the maid to CeCe as much as Tuesday does for her.
Tuesday glared at him. “George, what happened?”
“That is an extremely good question,” he replied airily. “It seems that your charming maid, CeCe, threw herself in front of the coach -“
“Threw myself? You pushed me,” said an outraged CeCe.
“Why would I do that?”
“Who can say? You probably thought it was amusing. I suppose you like hurting animals as well.”
“Adore it. Such a feeling of power.”
Lawrence’s first appearance in the novel caught my attention. He sort of breaks into Tuesday’s house, and walks right into a self-made burglar alarm.
Lawrence turned back around when he heard himself being addressed by a woman. “The top part of the burglar alarms was supposed to hit your head, not your chin,” she explained, pointing to where his hand was massaging his jaw. “You are too tall.”
No apology, nothing. She just stated these things as if they were facts, as if it were his fault that he’d been attacked by her doorway. And Lawrence let her.
Tuesday’s nightmares are chilling. The circumstances she finds herself in casts her in suspicion, and she has a hard time explaining that her husband’s murder – as well as others – have all been painted by her the day before the murders…which always happen on Tuesdays. The psychological piece of the novel – the fact that the killer seems to be in Tuesday’s very mind – is uncanny. It again does nothing but point the finger at Tuesday, but her Secret Admirer starts sending darker and deadlier gifts. They are no longer cute trinkets left by an anonymous man.
Tuesday is an impossible woman, in Lawrence’s eyes. She won’t directly answer his questions, she is evasive and her own house staff will lie through their teeth while being utterly charming in order to protect her. How could she not be the killer? Evidence upon evidence is stacked against her, she is found at her husband’s apartments, and despite that she acts in such comically evasive ways that it seems to only further cement her damnation, or insanity.
“We are not going back to your house. Now answer my questions.”
“I believe I told you yesterday, Mister Pickering, that while I am happy to talk to you at lenght on a vast variety of subjects, questions from you of any type are decidedly unwelcome. Plus, you owe me an apology.”
“You are insane, aren’t you?”
“I wonder why your coach isn’t moving.”
“Do you know how close you are coming to getting your neck wrung?”
“Perhaps your coachman has fainted. I’ll go take a look.”
“My coachman is fine. You do realize you are under arrest, don’t you?”
“Isn’t the weather lovely?”
As Lawrence delves deeper into the Tuesday murders, he is caught between wanting to protect the utterly vulnerable Lady Tuesday Arlington, and wanting to arrest her on the spot. His own trust issues and his past obscure his objectivity and when there seems to be undisputed evidence that links Tuesday to the killings, Lawrence can no longer protect Tuesday as he desires to. Despite all of his good intentions, Lawrence cannot keep himself from slowly falling in love with Tuesday Arlington. It is a sweet romance that blooms from his need to protect her.
This was a terrible idea, the worst possible idea, whatever they were, doing everything they shouldn’t be. They didn’t even like each other. They couldn’t even be in the same room without glaring at each other. She might have killed her husband, he might be her jailer. They were both too fragile for this, both too broken.
Tuesday is a woman just like any other, and yet not like any other. She loves with intensity, cares greatly, and is damaged beyond repair. Regardless, she is taken aback to find herself in the same predicament that Lawrence secretly finds himself in: in love.
Don’t look at him don’t look at him don’t look at him. She looked at him.
She forgot everything she was going to say. She forgot English.
“How come you get to say what happens?” she sighed.
“I am in charge.”
“This is my house.”
“Does that mean I am in charge at my house?”
“Where can I be –”
But it isn’t until one of Tuesday’s former fiancés is called to visit Lord Pickering that the heart of the matter of Tueday’s past relationships is revealed and a crushing truth expounds Lawrence. Tuesday – always made to feel she’s not good enough – has been rejected over and over again, only reinforcing this idea in her mind. This can take an incredible toll on your psyche, and when she feels this coming on, she harshly reminds herself she is a terrible wife and all manner of other things as have been said about her. It made me cry on more than one occasion.
All of the characters in this final installment play important roles for the plot to continue moving along steadily. Just when I thought I had figured out who the Secret Admirer was – also called the Lion – I was proven wrong. And then wrong again. The Secret Admirer is nothing short of a crazed lunatic who can show some mode of decorum and reasoning, but once he starts slipping into his W craziness, it’s the end of the line. I don’t remember why, but he has some fascination with the letter W, so everything with a W is capitalized.
I found myself doing three things as I read this last novel of the Arboretti family. I was either constantly giggling at the antics of Tuesday and her friends, or sobering up and crying buckets for Tuesday. I also found myself refusing to continue reading because I didn’t want Tuesday’s story to come to a close. I wanted to prolong it as much as possible, but I found myself giving in. Who can resist Lady Tuesday Arlington?
***** About the Author *****
Michele is the author of the Bad Kitty series of YA books as well as thrillers and romances for adults. After getting her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard, she retired from academia and decided to become an FBI special agent or glamorous showgirl, but somehow instead ended up writing. A native of Los Angeles, California, Michele and her sparkly shoes currently reside in New York City.