Mon
Oct 27 2014 9:30am

First Look: Elizabeth Boyce’s Honor Among Thieves (October 27, 2014)

Honor Among Thieves by Elizabeth BoyceElizabeth Boyce
Honor Among Thieves
Crimson / October 27, 2014 / $4.99 digital

Grave robbing ain't no job for a lady . . .

To pay off her recently deceased brother’s debts, however, Lorna Robbins must take drastic measures. When she happens upon a resurrectionist gang stealing his corpse, she does the unthinkable and joins the criminal outfit to save her family estate and her younger sibling. For the first time in her lonely, duty-driven life, Lorna finds herself leading a treacherous and exciting double existence. By day, she becomes a popular lady of the ton, relying on society gossip to help her body-snatching gang. By night, she becomes the grave robber known only as the Blackbird. 

Surgeon and anatomy teacher Brandon Dewhurst relies on resurrectionists to bring him the specimens he needs to further his research on pregnancy. When his usual suppliers become unreliable, and then downright sinister, he’s reluctantly drawn further into the black market. As Lorna and Brandon both target the same body—a pregnant woman who is still very much alive—they find themselves powerfully drawn together time and again while trying to maintain their own respectable facades. But this daring duo is courting danger, and romance is a complication neither can afford.

Hallowe’en is the time when readers yearn for the macabre and the other-worldly. Is there a romance that might satisfy that need? Look no further than Elizabeth Boyce's Honor Among Thieves, where impoverished gentlewoman Lorna Robbins and surgeon/medical researcher Brandon Dewhurst meet repeatedly, in the back alleys of London’s East End and also in the sophisticated drawing rooms of the Ton.

The two are honorable, courageous individuals who are grappling with life and death decisions—to wit, the morality of culling and selling corpses to doctors who need them to pursue scientific research. Working with their respective gangs, they compete with each other for bodies…and Lorna’s flair for invisible risk-taking raises the stakes, as when an aristocratic corpse—a “plum specimen”—vanishes from the home of the deceased. Brandon wondered,

How had the other gang done it? He tried to imagine a group of rough, dirty louts waltzing out with a fresh body in front of the deceased woman’s neighbors, but couldn’t conjure the picture. Body snatchers didn’t operate like that. They kept to the dark and scattered like cockroaches at the first sign of trouble.

Brandon decides to investigate the rival gang. He also reluctantly realizes that he’ll have to get his hands dirty and do the skulking in person. His mission, directing the acquisition of bodies for scientific research, is too important to be out-sourced, especially if there’s a new, more successful gang in town. With the exception of his oldest, closest friends from university, who long ago dubbed themselves The Society of Honorables, Brandon is seldom able to relax of an evening. But figuring that even resurrectionists need to wet their whistle, Brandon arranges to meet with his supplier, Slee, at The Fox and Hare. Or was it The Fox and Hound?

A frustrated growl rumbled in his chest. Too many foxes, hares, and hounds—not to mention stags, crowns, and kings—littered the names of establishments. Brandon vowed that if he ever had occasion to own a public house, he would call it The Purple Tortoise.

Providing some much needed comic relief, Brandon’s backhanded sense of humor comes out in his musings and in his conversations with his “Honorable” friends.

Lorna and Brandon start making the rounds of London society at the same time, both tasked with getting close to Lady Fenton, a society matron carrying triplets. The expectation is that she and her unborn children will die in childbirth and Brandon and Lorna’s respective employees want to harvest Lady Fenton’s corpse. Very much on the dark side of the macabre ledger thus far!

Neither Lorna nor Brandon is accustomed to meeting the social expectations of the Little Season—when it comes to conversation, dancing, simply fitting in, they stand out noticeably. Lorna is very uncomfortable at exposing herself to so many people.

After years of living a quiet, country life with Daniel—followed by the harrowing months of tending Thomas, and then dark nights filled with dark work—she felt like a subterranean creature shoved into the light for the first time.

Newly exposed subterranean beings can be quite awkward in society, like during a lively country dance, when Lorna’s dress starts to unravel during a reel. Brandon whisks Lorna off to a quiet room where she can make repairs, but her ruefully joyous laughter at her predicament leads him to take a surprising liberty with her person. Perhaps these two have been living a little too long among the sick and sainted departed! Lorna’s insouciant composure is understandable, however.

There was nothing for it but to laugh. After the things she’d endured with Thomas and her gruesome work with the Crib Cross Gang, losing her bodice in front of a ballroom full of strangers didn’t seem such a catastrophe, after all.

What followed, well, she still wasn’t quite sure what to think. It should not have happened. His hands had no business on her underthings, and his tongue most assuredly ought not to have touched her neck.

Touch wasn’t even the right word for what happened. He’d tasted her. Exhaled hot breath against her. Enveloped her in his warm scent.

In this compelling story, there is no easy way to separate the sinners from the saints. The grave robbers are looking to make a living; the doctors are using cadavers to further medical knowledge. When one afternoon Lorna finds herself in the vicinity of the anatomy school (where Brandon lives and works…so possibly not just happenstance), a lecture is about to start. The public lecture “on advances in the field of obstetrics” is of acute professional interest to two women that are hovering in the doorway. Mrs. Fisher and her companion, Doris Watling, are midwives. The midwives thirst for knowledge, not just for knowledge’s sake, but to learn how to save the lives of their clients, impoverished pregnant women. Here the questionable work of Lorna and Brandon is portrayed as an integral part of the quest to save lives in childbirth. Lorna has had a bellyful of bullying by men and when she and her friends are denied entry, she lets loose.

“The notice says the lecture is open to the public, with no exceptions given. As Mrs. Fisher has rightly pointed out, we are the public. Instead of policing, you should welcome newcomers. You, sir, will not stand in the way of my scientific curiosity,” she finished with a flourish.

Fortuitously, Lord Sheridan, an old friend of Brandon’s, is in the vicinity. He arrogantly applauds Lorna’s speech and ushers her and her new friends into the building. The Society of Honorables makes wonderful allies, it seems.

The hubris and greed of Lorna and Brandon’s respective employers push them into making demands that tip the scales from scientific research at any cost into the dregs of proposed murder. Together Lorna and Brandon risk their lives and the lives of those that depend upon them to save the very pregnant Lady Fenton from certain death.

Couples are often prevented from achieving their happily-ever-after because of the dreaded “big mis” or misunderstanding, but who would argue the difficulty of telling the man with whom you are falling in love that you are Blackbird, the notorious grave robber? Even after they make delectable love, Lorna is afraid to share her broken secrets with Brandon, although she savors the memories of their night.

With his mouth and other hand, Brandon set out to explore her like an undiscovered country. He kissed, licked, and stroked a path from sternum to navel, which he treated to a tongue kiss as passionate as those he’d given her mouth . . . “Look at you,” he murmured into the curve of her hip. “Like cream dusted with cocoa.” Her freckles, she realized he meant.

Brandon and Lorna have so very much in common. Unusually passionate about helping others and furthering scientific knowledge, both embracing the sweet joys of the countryside, and unafraid to be different in a time when conformity was almost a religion, these two were destined for each other. When they finally experience the joy of revelation, of intimacy, and of feeling whole, all wrapped up in a fairytale ending, it’s intensely satisfactory. Honor Among Thieves is a romantic version of a very grim (or Grimm) fairytale where the danger and horror of the journey is balanced by the exquisite and hard-fought peace of the ending.

 

Learn more about or order a copy of Honor Among Thieves by Elizabeth Boyce, available October 27, 2014:

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Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. When I rediscovered the world of romance, my spirit guide was All About Romance's Desert Island Keepers — I started with the “A” authors and never looked back.

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