Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: A Private Duel with Agent Gunn by Jillian Stone

A Private Duel with Agent Gunn by Jillian Stone
Click here to buy the book on Amazon

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

In the continuing saga of discovering what kind of reader I am, I have discovered that I do not like this sort of story. It's too action-packed and too fast-paced for me to process and appreciate. I like to think about the plot, but never had the chance to do so with this one because it changes direction too quickly.

The novel begins with Phineas Gunn being assigned to do surveillance on Catriona de Dovia Willoughby, whose older brother, Eduardo de Dovia, was Tigre Solitario, a member of the Anarchist group Los Tigres Solitario, who died during an operation led by Phin. Phin and Cate also share an "interesting" history: they were lovers before they discovered each other's true identity. We are also introduced to Hardy Gunn, Phin's brother, and the subplot of his affair with a married woman, Lady Lennox. Stone also takes time to show how rough-and-tumble the Gunn brothers are and showed some signs that Hardy might join Scotland Yard.

At this point, I was expecting a story about rekindling a romance and would have been interested to see the juxtaposition between the two Gunn brothers and their relationships. It's a complicated situation and I could imagine the agony of having to choose between one's job as an agent of Scotland Yard and one's desires for Cate. I can also imagine Cate's emotional turmoil: her former lover killed her brother, and now he is back in her life, and she still desires him.

The plot morphs and we discover that Cate is also the cat burglar that all of London is talking about -- who has been robbing houses, but only taking one piece of jewelry and leaving the rest behind. We discover that she is just trying to recover some pieces that her late uncle owned, and which she needs to pay off her uncle's debts and save his house. Phin has no choice but to trail after Cate, to discover if this development has any connection to the Spanish anarchists. I thought this was a very good development to the plot and enjoyed seeing this different aspect of Cate. She was already interesting as a ballerina, but she becomes more interesting as a cat burglar.

But, before I could really enjoy this, the plot takes Cate to France, where she is trying to bargain for her brother's release from prison. It seems that Cate's burgling was not to pay off debts, but to amass the money needed to ransom her brother (who, apparently, isn't dead). Phin goes after Cate and becomes part of the prison break plan to free Eduardo before he is sent off to Devil Island, a deadly penal colony.

I have to admit this was an exciting part of the book, and I loved reading about how they were going to free Eduardo and another man, Chamberlain, (an agent of the Crown). There's a bit of steampunk/industrial element as Phin plays with a "flashlight" that Scotland Yard's labs have made and the "getaway vehicle" was an airship. There's also a lot of politics here, with Phin and Cate having to negotiate with both the French local government and the British attache to France.

I will say this now: this was not my favourite of Jillian Stone's works:

1. I found myself following trains of thoughts that didn't have an end destination.

- Read Chapter 32, where Phin is talking about his experience of war, and Cate interrupts with an admission of love.

- Read Chapter 34, where Scotland Yard is trying to figure out an assassination attempt. They have a rough plan, but nothing really ironed out. The scene ends with this:

Cate jumped when Melville grunted. "No one leaves this room until we all agree on a plan. You've got twenty minutes." Melville checked his pocket watch. "Then I'm going down to The Rising Sun for a pint and a fish pie." He glanced up at the table. "You're welcome to join."

- Read the Epilogue where Cate is trying to explain the whole convoluted plot and, I felt it wasn't sufficiently explained before it shifts into a seduction.

2. Characters pop in and out at surprising times, and character traits pop in and out at surprising times. At the beginning of the story, it is hinted that Phin has PTSD and sees a psychiatrist for treatment. He's a bit agoraphobic -- but, when he is with Cate, he forgets his ailment. Cate, on the other hand, is a strange mix of capable and helpless. Then there's the surprise revelation about Cate in Chapter 35 -- I tried to read back, but couldn't find the clues for this particular surprise.

She moved to kiss him and he leaned away. "Non, mademoiselle -- lovemaking only as a reward for practice." Frustrated, she pinched him. "Ow -- why do females pinch?" He was laughing. My sister pinched."

Cate blinked. "You never mentioned a sister."
- Chapter 26

3. There's a lot of French and Spanish phrases in the story and the author translates some, but not all. I wonder about the wisdom in having a foreign language in a novel. On one hand, it does lend authenticity to the story, but, on the other hand, it's something that breaks the flow of a story.

Her mind continued to whirl a continuous fouette rond de jamb en tournament. And her stomach flutters were -- dear God, her body purred inside.
- Chapter 2

* * *

The moment the latch clicked open she slipped inside and slammed the door in his face. "Hombre odioso! Usted me engano. Usted finge ser mi amigo. Si no confia en me, por que debo confiarme, Phin-e-ass Gunn?"

Finn returned to the carriage and sat on the edge of the tufted bench seat. His driver took the long way around the block to the backside of St. Peter's grounds. Absently he translated the spate of Spanish expletives. Horrid man. Deceiver. You pretend to be my friend. If you do not trust me, why must I trust you, Phin-e-ass -- emphasis on the last syllable -- Gunn?
- Chapter 10

There are some positive elements found in this story, but, I think the overall presentation could have been more polished. Despite my disappointment with this book, I will still continue to follow this series and will read Codename: Dragon (Flynn Rhys's story) when it comes out this Fall.

A Private Duel with Agent Gunn is Book 3 of Jillian Stone's Gentlemen of Scotland Yard series. To find out more about Jillian Stone and her books, click below:


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