Portrait in ShadowsOver the summer, I wrote a post for All About Romance on defining the Gothic. In the ensuing discussion, people brought up a couple of books I hadn’t read. One of them was Portrait in Shadows and one of my tweeps was kind enough to mail me a copy since it is long out of print and has no e version. As the TBR challenge theme for today is short books, I thought I would give it a shot.

Shocked by her broken engagement, Cameron Forrest blindly accepted Justin Bradford’s offer to come to Gull’s Glen and paint the portrait of the famous author’s beautiful young bride.

In the peace and privacy of the magnificent Big Sur clifftop estate, Cam hoped to lose herself in the assignment…an assignment that could mark a turning point in her career. But far from finding refuge, Cam was suddenly drawn into a dangerous masquerade of forbidden love…and into the arms of a man she dared not trust because she needed him too much.

This book is an unholy mess. I wish I had some kind words for it, but I really don’t. The only reason I read half of it and skimmed the other, instead of quitting entirely at the 1/4 mark was the fact that I was using it for the challenge.

As it is a Candlelight, this is a relatively short book. Only 180 pages. So you’d think every word would be necessary. Instead, it’s full of passages like this one:

Although I’d never been there myself, I’d heard so much about Carmel, I was anxious to explore it. I had to make three complete tours of the streets before I located a place to park. Lucky to have a tiny car, I thought, as I maneuvered my VW into a small space between a Mercedes and a Porsche. Carmel is a very high income area, I reminded myself.

This kind of thing runs rampant in the book and it means a reader is never sure what to focus on. Our introduction to Cam is when she is musing about how terrible it is to have lost “my engagement to young Dr. Doug Stanley and the European honeymoon his parents had promised him…”. You might think, then, that young Dr. Doug would play a big role. He doesn’t. In fact, there’s really no reason Cam needed to be the victim of a broken engagement at all.

But anyway, onward. Perhaps it was my poor reading of the cover, but I assumed that the “forbidden love” in the cover copy was Cameron and the hero, the man she dared not trust. But no. And the big, scary romance with the guy she dares not trust? Not terribly romantic, really. In fact, he doesn’t get much page time.

This book is neither fish nor fowl. Not romantic suspense, not Gothic, not romance. It’s trying really hard to be a Gothic, right down to the big, isolated house and the misty landscape, but there’s not enough substance to make it really work. In a true Gothic, we would fear for Cam, either her person or her sanity, and that never happens. There should be a malevolent force at work, but I am not sure the Candlelight category is a place where malevolence is encouraged, and that means the books doesn’t succeed as a Gothic.

In fact, I shouldn’t have started. The cover should have told me all I needed to know. Big, brooding house, but laughing, preppy couple. A total muddle.

Stay away from this one. Go for a Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, or Phyllis A. Whitney instead.