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Connie Brockway's novel <i>All Through the Night</i> is a story about a widow (Anne) who steals to assuage her guilt over her husband's death (and well the men that died with him). She steals jewelry from rich ladies who pledge to contribute to her charity for injured and homeless soliders but fail to follow through. Apparently, her husband (Matthew) committed suicide by War. Basically he contrived to get someone to give him a Captain's commission based on a scant amount of naval experience. Then wandered off into battle resulting his own death and his entire crew. Prior to his death - he sent his wife a note telling her that she would be free of him now, and her inability to love him as he deserved. The War was the Napoleanic War. But this is a Regency Romance. So it takes place after that WAR. The hero (Col. Jack Seward), who is tracking the thief, is a spy and a bit of a hardened rogue. He's being manipulated by his father (Jamison) who is the head of some covert agency and sends Jack out to do all sorts of underhanded things. Jack and Anne fall in love, much angst ensues.
The blurb on the cover led me to believe it would be a cat and mouse game - it's not. <cut text="spoilers"> Lacks humor, which is odd, considering the last novel I'd read by Brockway (The Other Guy's Bride) was actually fairly humorous. This one is a wee bit too melodramatic for its own good. And Brockway over sells Anne's backstory. Anne was married to a Narcissist, who everyone else considered a saint, and it led her to become a cat burgler or jewel thief.
Jack is more interesting. The heroes often are in these novels, not quite sure why. Without going into too much detail, Jack was raised in a work house and then adopted by Jamison, who turned him into a spy. The novel does provide some rather complex, if unlikable, supporting characters. And Jamison, who is clearly a sociopath, is far more complex than you'd think from the brief description. But the plot suffers from the writer's struggle to create hot love scenes, which is admittedly a genre related flaw. Sex scenes are not easy to write - literary writers struggle with them. There's a fine line between erotic and just plain ludicrous. The old adage less is more rings true here.
All Through the Night is however interesting in how it depicts the struggle for gender equality in this time period. How women are often suppressed by men. The hero (Jack) at one point in the story, actually thinks to himself - how he is the heroine's "superior in gender, physical strength and rank". This is admittedly before the heroine in the guise of a thief, steals into his room, ties him up, and has her way with him sexually, while holding him at swordpoint, then physically bests him and escapes. It's also stated at various points, how she has a lot more money than he does. But the heroine is called "MRS Wilder" not Anne. MRS stands out, because the other women are Miss or Lady. And in most of these novels you see the word Lady. I've come to the conclusion that the word "MRS" has got to be the most sexist of terms. The woman is no longer an individual - she takes on her spouses' identity and name. Unlike MR - which does not have a marital connotation or one of ownership, MRS does. This book really underlines it - and does it in a rather subversive manner.
Brockway is a somewhat subversive romance novelist in that she likes to critique various tropes. In this novel - Anne Tribble marries Lord Matthew Wilder, who showers her with riches, adores her, but doesn't want her to have kids or is into sexual love - which he considers lust and beneath them. He can love her, but she can't sexually love him. He wants her to let him take her over, become his. Not just take his name, but everything else as well. He's a fairy tale prince who appears, at least on the surface, to hand poor Anne, from less than classy roots, the world. But she grows to hate his insecure and fawning attentions and despise herself for feeling this way. Until she decides to leave him and live with her father. Unable to handle her abandonment, he enlists and kills himself and his men - to punish her. Resulting in Anne martyring herself to a cause and robbing rich ladies as a thief, that everyone but the hero, believes is male - the hero knows she isn't because she propositions him. As the thief she takes on the aggressive and proactive male role. She has the power. Until the rough around the edges, and Colonel of modest means, Jack Seward swoops in and rescues her taking her away from that life. She becomes his Mrs. Seward. And when all is resolved, which of course it will be, Jack and Anne disappear together within the fog. Normally, in these books, Seward is the fiend and Matthew the hero, but here it is the opposite. We never meet Matthew - he's dead before the book begins. </cut>
The story works and it doesn't quite work. In that the writer takes the story a wee bit too seriously, and the characters feel at times over-drawn or over-wrought. Far too much time is spent on erotic sex scenes - which could have been shortened, and repetitive monologues about how much the two characters desire each other and can't live without one another - which unfortunately comes across more as "obsession" than love. And does little to counteract against the Matthew/Anne back story. The dialogue also lacks a certain snap, crackle and pop.
Overall not a bad read, but can't say I recommend it either.