Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz) has got to be one of my favorite authors of all time. One could argue that she’s not exactly writing high literature, but when I want to sit back, relax, and enjoy a good story I often grab one of her books. There is a time and place for Austen or Keats or that ilk, and it’s not often laying back on my couch with a cup of hot chocolate or tea. (Not that I drink those much at the moment thanks to the caffeine limitations of being pregnant!) The Amanda Quick pseudonym is used exclusively for the books of historical romance and, since I’ve discovered that I sort of geek out over those – especially set in the Regency or Victorian eras – I have grown quite a collection of Quick books on my shelves.
The enjoyable thing, for me, about Crystal Gardens was that not only is it historical romance – it’s paranormal historical romance (I’m a sucker for mixed genres) that takes a departure from norm in two ways.
First, these days when you hear “paranormal” in front of any description for a book you most likely start to picture vampires or werewolves (or maybe zombies, and I don’t know what’s up with that craze). Now, I love me a good vampire story and shapeshifters are fascinating, too, but at this point those are so overdone that those books have ceased to be enjoyable for their novelty. In the Amanda Quick world, the element of the paranormal comes from totally human characters who possess widely varied psychical abilities of some sort. It’s not all rote, either, like telekinesis, telepathy, or something you automatically go to when you think “psychic.” Even better, because each person’s abilities and the level of those abilities can be utterly unique. For example, in some of the Arcane Society books, characters have an uncanny ability for botany, while others have a talent for finding things, or hunting down violent killers, or they can read and even make adjustments to a person’s aura, which has a physical affect…the list goes on and is potentially endless since Quick/Krentz didn’t box herself into a preconceived notion of what constitutes a psychic ability.
Second, Crystal Gardens departs from the norm within Quick’s own body of work, even under other names and genres. Previous books established special abilities within characters who are in some way connected to the Arcane Society – which researches and catalogs the abilities of members and, to some extent, polices those talented individuals who use their talents for criminal activity. Arcane isn’t mentioned once in Crystal Gardens, but the characters do have those special abilities – without Arcane as a resource, social connection, or plot motivator. Instead, Quick introduces a wonderful new character whose talent is used by an investigative agency made entirely up of women who pose as paid companions.
Our main female character, Evangeline, has recently retired to the country on a sort of sabbatical after an investigation ended badly. The idea is that she can recover her nerves a little, work on writing her own serialized novel, and then return to her work as a companion/investigator in a month or so. Unfortunately, only two weeks into her stay a man breaks into her leased cottage with the intention of slitting her throat. She manages to escape her home through a window, which is too small for her attacker, and she makes immediately for the safety of her nearest neighbor at Crystal Gardens. The gardens for which the estate is named seem to have some sort of preternatural power of their own, and Evangeline rushes into the gardens with the intent of luring the killer into the more dangerous parts of the grounds.
Her plan is partially successful. The villain follows Evangeline into the gardens, but events change slightly when she runs straight into the estate’s owner, Lucas Sebastian. Lucas also has a talent, which he uses to drive the killer away. The man flees into an even more dangerous part of the garden than Evangeline had planned and dies. Lucas, who is already intrigued by Evangeline, then has a number of questions about why his new tenant is being pursued by a knife-wielding man – whose voice clearly carried the accents of a street man from London – in the middle of the country, in the middle of the night, and in the middle of his gardens.
Lucas also finds that, despite the very limited length of their acquaintance, he is determined to protect Evangeline from whoever wants her dead. First, however, he wants to understand why someone is after Evangeline because he is already at Crystal Gardens to investigate a murder. It is a little too much of a coincidence that a lady with psychical abilities just moved into a nearby cottage, next to dangerously preternaturally enhanced gardens rumored to contain buried treasure, shortly after the murder of his uncle… Protecting Evangeline and discovering another murderer will prove to be a delicate task – especially considering that (given the time period) protecting Evangeline’s reputation from slander is almost as important, and difficult, to accomplish.
What follows is a story with not one, but two, good mysteries and romance. The more we learn about the characters, the more I like them, and the more clear it becomes that this book will springboard into a series that I will be eager to get my hands on the moment the next books are published.