My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Sabrina Jeffries’ The Duke’s Men series is coming to an end with its 4th installment, If the Viscount Falls. I’ve admired this series right from the start, enjoyed the lives of these Duke’s Men, as they were called. Dom, or Dominic Manton, has been the heart and soul of Manton’s Investigations, and finally we get to read his story. I generally love Ms. Jeffries’ writing and the premise of a second chance romance seemed perfect as it was building since the beginning of this series. Unfortunately, all I got is this impression; when two superbly stubborn people fall in love, that relationship is doomed right from the start. Can’t say I enjoyed the sensation throughout the story.
If you want to be introduced to the protagonists of this series, you should probably start with the Hellions of Hallstead Hall, where some of these Duke’s Men were secondary characters. The rest were introduced along the way. It’s not strictly necessary but fun nonetheless. ‘The Duke’s Men’ is a fancy name for Manton’s Investigation. Dom’s younger half-siblings (his deceased father, the viscount’s mistress’s children) used to help him running this company. Though Dom’s elder brother, George, who couldn’t stand the sight of either Tristan or Lisette, Dom was fond of both and appreciated having them close. Thus he was been banished and disinherited. But Dom never cared a whit. He made a living out of this business, with aplomb no doubt.
The Duke of Lyons, Max, was one of the characters from the Hellions series. He’s also the H of book 1 of this series, What the Duke Desires. Thankfully, he’s now happily married to Lisette.
Max’s long lost cousin, Victor, was rescued in book 1. At that time, Max thought himself alone in this world. With the rumors of a so-called curse hanging above his head, he was only too happy to have someone to call ‘brother’ again, even if he was unable to find his own brother, the original heir, who passed away long ago. Victor’s story can be found in When the Rogue Returns. Max hired Manton’s Investigation to find his brother. Even though the result wasn’t satisfactory, this case received much popularity in the media nonetheless. This is how the name came to be. Dom is not amused by all the unwanted attentions but Tristan, the mischief-maker, obviously loves it. Dom, though, appreciates that this helped boosting his business.
Victor was treated by Dr. Worth, and you can read his story in a novella called Dorinda and the Doctor.
Tristan finds love in Lady Zoe in book 3, How the Scoundrel Seduces, while working on a case. He met Zoe first, ironically, also working on another case. Zoe was in a big dilemma regarding the circumstances of her birth. Her true identity could effectively ruin her reputation; also divest her off her inheritance. And for this investigation, no other than the famous Duke’s Men will do. She originally wanted Dom but ended up hiring Tristan instead. Sparks flew right from the start as they had this instant love-hate relationship that soon blossomed into something more. Tristan being the rake of the bunch hadn’t seen it coming, is all I can say. Zoe proved to the perfect match for him. It is always fun to watch the rake fall so hard that he can’t see straight because of it. :p At the end of this installment though, George gets his comeuppance when he tries his best to make trouble for Tristan and Dom using the facts of Zoe’s birth, wanting to ruin her because she was in love with Tristan. After George’s death, Dom becomes Viscount Rathmoor as his brother didn’t leave an heir.
Dom’s story with his ex-fiancée Jane was introduced quite early in the series when she and he suddenly see each-other again at a ball after a long time. We’ve been given hints where it was said that something happened between them that led Jane to jilt Dom some 12 yrs. ago. They were both young and so much in love, yet no one really knows what exactly happened. Neither Dom, nor Jane will open their mouths about it.
Incidentally, the end of their engagement also corresponds with the whole mess of Tristan and Dom’s father’s death, then Tristan stealing the horse that was meant for him. George destroyed the codicil written while his father was in deathbed, which mentioned that his ‘other family’ aka mistress and her children will be getting financial benefits. But George made sure they get nothing. After that, Tristan, Lisette and their mother had no other option but to leave when George was adamant of hanging Tristan as a horse thief. Besides they couldn’t prove anything to anyone. Dom has always been more attached to this family. As I mentioned earlier that he also supported them which saw him without an inheritance, all thanks to George. At that time, as we find out in this installment, he was engaged to Jane. After being disinherited, without any future to speak of, Dom decided it was the best that they broke up. He was just starting out as a Bow Street Runner with meager pay that couldn’t even afford him a decent meal and a place to stay. There was no way he was dragging Jane down that path. But Jane wouldn’t listen to him no matter what. So he makes this plan with Nancy, Jane’s cousin who marries George later, for a tryst of sort. It works. Jane finds them together. Moreover, she eavesdrops on how Dom wanted Nancy more than her, something that left her completely heartbroken. The rest of this mess was, of course, known to all.
Here is one example on what I said about two superbly stubborn people in a relationship, there are more later in the story. Both Dom and Jane thought they did what is for the best. Dom thought it was best for Jane so he went with the plan, knowing he’s destroying something he’d later regret. He wouldn’t even give Jane a chance, whereas Jane wouldn’t listen to him either. Years later, through his transition from a struggling Bow Street runner to a respectable and rather famous detective, Dom has regretted his decision over and over again. He has always been in love with Jane and no woman had ever replaced her in the intervening years. He has never been a womanizer like Tristan, so we can’t say that he’d wasted whatever time he had out of work away on women. Yet, he never went back to Jane even when he could afford a wife and a family, even knowing she was still unmarried. I figured he was unsure, thinking he has burned anything resembling a bridge between them. But I think he should’ve at least tried, more so when I found out later that Jane had known for a while that the whole scene she witnessed that night was false. As it turned out, Nancy isn’t much of a secret keeper.
Jane’s father’s will had some crazy clauses, one would be that she must marry a peer of the realm, or at the least someone from a noble family. Otherwise, she wouldn’t get her dowry. If she remains unmarried, even then she’d come to her inheritance at the age of 35! Though Jane’s parents passed away when she was quite young, she knew her father for an a$$hole. He never treated her mother right. He was very controlling and thru this will, he made sure he can still control Jane’s life from beyond the grave. When she ‘jilted’ Dom, Jane didn’t think she’d ever marry. But in the most secret recesses of her broken heart, she hoped that Dom would someday come to her when he could afford a family. But he never did. 12 yrs. passed with her gradually giving up on him, though why it took 12 yrs., that’s a good question. She was probably waiting for her inheritance until one day she decided that she didn’t want to live alone. So she hastily gets engaged with a childhood friend, the Earl of Blakeborough; a complete MOC from both sides. Though she harbors affection for Edwin, she knows she can never love him. No matter what, she couldn’t chase Dom away from her heart. When she saw him again in that ball, the carefully built wall around her heart threatened to crumble down on her.
In between, in the installments, we got to see Dom and glimpses of Jane. Also, Lisette’s not so very subtle matchmaking. Not surprising since that’s what she expects of all her siblings seeing how she so happily married. It was very much apparent that Dom and Jane haven’t gotten over each-other. Though Lisette is hopeful of a second romance, Tristan isn’t all that much. He actually dislikes Jane, not knowing the reasons behind that long ago jilt. Dom tried his best to extricate himself from this new tangle, and Lisette’s matchmaking. However, one day Jane stops at the Manton’s, asking for his help to find Nancy. Apparently, she went missing a while ago and from everything that Jane saw and heard, she didn’t go on her own. In short, Jane fears that Nancy has been kidnapped.
Dom is surprised as well as exhilarated to find Jane asking for his help. However, he has no soft feelings for Nancy like Jane. From the things Jane informs him, Dom becomes very sure that she ran off with some lover. But Jane is very sure about Nancy’s perfect reputation, that she’d never do any such thing. Despite all his misgivings, Dom agrees respond to Jane’s plea of help. When their first clue, where Nancy supposedly has gone to, comes up blank, Jane is evermore sure that Nancy has been kidnapped. Dom still continues to believe his own theory of a lover. Jane mentions some things like Nancy never leaves anywhere without her dogs, as she did on this one. Then she never really packed up before leaving whereas Dom still continues to believe she was in a hurry to elope. Who cares about dogs and clothes at a moment like this? I’d agree with him personally but Jane is not convinced. Thus, both Dom and Jane continue to quibble over the clues all through their journey to their next stop. And the next... *sigh*
Their continual disagreement over what might’ve happened to Nancy goes on throughout the book. Way too long for my liking. Jane never quite agreed on Dom’s theories, even seeing him as a potential threat to Nancy since she was pregnant at that time. Dom being the new viscount she decides not to divulge that bit of information until she absolutely had to, leaving Dom speechless. Nancy hasn’t been successful in keeping her babies so there’s no telling what will happen this time. What I found absolutely unbelievable that somewhere in her mind, she believed Dom would do something to make Nancy lose the baby so that his new found money and status will remain solid! Even Dom couldn’t believe she could think such a thing! I didn’t like this at all. I would’ve thought Jane knew Dom better than that. And in lights of the fact that she was forever confused about her own feelings where he was concerned, mixing with her suspicions and disagreements, it began to grate at one point.
Dom wasn’t any better either. He was quite biased against Nancy from the beginning, always seeing something negative, rather than considering she might be in real danger. It definitely doesn’t speak well for a supposedly splendid detective as him. Still, I felt his feelings for Jane was more solid than Jane’s for him. Then there was the matter of their past misunderstanding that kept rearing head in between the investigation. If they weren’t fighting about their theories, yays and nays on Nancy’s fate, they were either fighting about their own past and that one ‘incident’ or kissing each-other’s faces off. Oh boy, talk about dilemma! *eyeroll* As I said, all these began to grate on me after a while. I was like ‘puhleez, make up your freakin’ minds people!’
As the investigation (and the story) progressed, Dom also engages Tristan in it. Max was already a part of it as Jane and Dom had to stop at their home. By then they agreed that Nancy has been seen with Samuel Barlow, a young rake with a bad reputation and equally bad financial status. Since his disgrace that involved an elopement and something more horrid, Samuel had been disinherited by his family. He’s also, unfortunately, Edwin’s younger brother and has been known to both Jane and Dom. Jane knew Samuel was the family blacksheep. She also knew he was rather enamored of Nancy once upon a time, before her marriage to George. But no matter how many times Jane tries to think of them in love, enough for an elopement, she couldn’t envision it. Samuel is way too selfish and self-centered for it.
We are then given a pleasant visit to the home of Viscount Ravenswood, who was a past character in Sabrina Jeffries’ Swanlea Spinsters series. Actually, he and his wife were the H/h of book 6. He was also connected throughout the later series, such as the Hellions of Hallstead Hall and the Duke’s Men, mostly by mention and not appearance, because he was a mentor to Jackson Pinter, another character from the Hellions series. Dom used to be a subordinate to Pinter when he was a Bow Street runner. He has previously worked for both Pinter and Ravenswood, which is why Dom feels that he could count on Ravenswood for information. With Tristan by his side, Dom begins his investigation in earnest, knowing that whatever it is, he needs to find out ASAP. Either way, the viscountcy is being threatened, and if they knew Samuel well, he’s definitely a part of it. Now the big question; what is Nancy’s part in it? Of course, Jane has always maintained Nancy’s innocence, while Dom thought the opposite. He needed more solid proof before he can strike Nancy out.
At one point, between all the disagreements, Dom and Jane end up making love. It was after they had this talk (finally) about their past, about Dom’s own troubles and vulnerabilities, with Jane trying to convince him that she’s willing to let past remain in the past and move on. That scene could’ve been marvelous but I found it to be utterly unbelievable and wrong for several reasons; the first and foremost would be Jane still being engaged to Edwin. Even if she wasn’t in love with him, or he with her, it was wrong. Sadly, she knew this to be wrong yet she decides to sleep with Dom nonetheless. Dom tries to warn her, but simply gets carried away, convinced that Jane is finally going to be his. By that time, he made up his mind not going down without a fight for her hand, so it was no wonder when she invites the intimacy he gives in. Personally, I’d welcome this if they actually had a pleasant conversation throughout the whole journey, and if Jane didn’t show an alarming amount of lack of trust and confidence in Dom. It didn’t feel right that one moment she’s suspicious of his motives, comparing him to her a$$hole of a father (which meant she can’t even consider marrying him), then the next she’s confessing her undying love or something close, all in the space of a few days. She didn’t even trust Dom doing the investigation without butting into every freakin’ thing because she wanted to make sure he isn’t doing anything suspicious (according to her) that might harm Nancy rather than help her. Does that spell anything like ‘trust’? I didn’t think so.
When they reach London trailing Samuel and Nancy’s path, they seek help from Edwin, who graciously agrees, knowing that his brother is a lost cause. Thankfully, Jane takes this chance to inform him that she can’t marry him. Edwin, though a bit disappointed, takes it in stride. I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of this handsome and broody Earl. Even though she knew that Dom won’t be happy about her butting into the last leg of the investigation, Jane still concocts a plan to butt in regardless of the danger. I could totally shake Lisette for being an idiot and encouraging her. It’s like these girls never use their brains. There’s no point in jumping first then worrying about the fall, is there? Fortunately for Jane, the author was of a mind to make Dom look like a fool when it turns out that Nancy, and her ladies maid, were indeed duped by Samuel who had this farfetched plan about marrying Nancy then passing off the ladies maid’s baby (courtesy himself) as George’s heir. It wouldn’t have been easy to pull off, even I could see it because once Nancy miscarried her own and learned of Samuel’s treachery, she completely refused to co-operate. Hence the need for kidnapping. Moreover, the child absolutely has to be male, which no one can confirm.
After it was all solved, Dom and Jane profess their undying love to each-other and live HEA, while I was left disappointed about the whole drama, having a hard time believing in their romance. If they were given some times, a few months maybe to work things out, it would’ve been much more believable IMO. Having read it all, I couldn’t buy the ‘loved you forever’ all that much. What I rather enjoyed was revisiting the older characters who were in the story to do their little parts. Overall, a disappointing end to the series.
If the Viscount Falls was more of a 3.5 stars but I’ve decided to round up as 4. I’m looking forward to the new series that’s obviously a spinoff of The Duke’s Men, featuring secondary characters from it.
I was auto-approved for this ARC from Pocket Books via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.