Narrated by Derek Perkins
In this second book in her Victorian Rebels series, Kerrigan Byrne delivers another dark, lushly romantic tale featuring a deeply flawed hero who is most ably brought to life by Derek Perkins in another accomplished and engaging performance. Christopher Argent (The Hunter of the title) is widely known to be one of the deadliest – if not THE deadliest – men in all of the British Empire. A cold, ruthless assassin, listeners encountered him briefly towards the end of the previous book in the series, The Highwayman, where he was revealed to be a long-time associate of Dorian Blackwell, and his right-hand man in the war they fought some years ago for the control of the criminal underworld.
Like Blackwell’s, Argent’s past is full of pain, darkness and horror, something brought home in the prologue, which is one of the most emotionally charged things I’ve listened to in quite some time. Born in Newgate Prison to a mother serving time for thievery and prostitution, Christopher was guilty of nothing but being her son. When he came of age, he was released and quickly had to learn to make his own way in the world or starve. Trained in martial arts by a kung-fu “sifu” while in prison, he eventually put his talent for killing to use at Blackwell’s side and continues to do so when necessary while also accepting contracts for assassination from those that can afford him. His latest assignment is to dispose of an actress named Millie LeCour, the darling of London theatre, who is currently playing at Covent Garden in a new production of Othello.
Beautiful, clever and talented, Millie’s ability to convey real emotion during her performances has quickly won her a reputation for excellence and the hearts of the city’s theatre-goers. On one particular evening, she notices a large man with icy-blue eyes intent upon her, and the frisson of fascination she feels is undeniable. That frisson morphs into full-blown attraction when she encounters him after the performance and they exchange some heated kisses – after which he disappears suddenly into the night, leaving Millie bereft, frustrated and annoyed.
Argent doesn’t know what the hell is wrong with him. From the moment he watched Millie – as Desdemona – die on stage, something started stirring in him, something he doesn’t recognise. He has never merely attempted an assassination; has never failed or reneged on a contract, and he can’t understand why he found it impossible to do away with Millie when he had the perfect opportunity to do so.
He tries twice more to fulfil the contract, but something stops him each time. Millie’s unconditional love for and utter devotion to her young son obviously strike a chord with Argent and unquestionably, he wants her; but it’s more than that. Something about her calls to him and unsettles him, a man who believes himself completely devoid of emotion. He starts wondering why anyone would want to snuff out such loveliness and vibrancy – and when he learns that there may be more than meets the eye to Millie’s situation, he offers her a bargain. Thinking that he will be able to get her out of his system if he can have her, just once, he offers her and Jakub his protection – in exchange for one night with her.
With Argent turned protector, it seems that Millie and Jakub are safe – but whoever wants her dead is not prepared to give up, and now it’s up to Argent to keep her out of the clutches of a psychotic killer.
The Hunter is a well-written, gripping tale and Ms Byrne’s descriptions of theatre life and the seedier side of London are incredibly evocative. On the downside, the romance is rooted in insta-lust on both sides, the pacing slackens somewhat in the middle, and the ending is a little over the top with not one, but two “Millie in danger” episodes. The author also set herself one hell of a challenge when she created Argent. He’s so terribly damaged that he no longer has normal human reactions to things, and in some ways, such as his unfailing honesty, this serves to make him rather endearing. But attractive hero though he is, I have to admit that I found myself wondering if he were not TOO broken to find peace. Fortunately, however, Ms Byrne doesn’t take the easy way out and turn him into some kind of hearts-and-flowers bloke who has been saved by the love of a good woman. Instead, she shows us that the possibility of his becoming a better man and making a better life is well within his grasp, and that with Millie at his side, he is going to get there. And that, I could believe in.
Derek Perkins has returned to narrate this second instalment in the series, and his performance here is every bit as good as it is in The Highwayman. Both narrative and dialogue are well-paced and expressive, and his interpretation of both leads is excellent. All the characters are clearly distinguishable from one another, and I was impressed with his portrayal of the villain, who sounds utterly plausible and not at all over-the-top, which makes him all the more chilling. Mr Perkins’ characterisation of Argent is spot on, his voice devoid of expression at the beginning of the book, but gradually acquiring more colour and nuance as the story progresses, a perfect reflection of what is happening to the man himself as he finds himself slowly thawing out under Millie’s influence. He does an equally good job with his portrayal of Millie, thankfully eschewing anything approaching falsetto and opting to adopt a lighter timbre and softened tone, which work very well to convey both her determination and her vulnerability. We meet Dorian Blackwell and Farah again in this story – the relationship between the two men is one of my favourite things about the book – and both characters are performed consistently across both audios, as are the handful of secondary recurring characters such as Murdoch and Gemma.
Listeners who enjoyed The Highwayman are sure to enjoy The Hunter, although it’s perfectly possible to listen to it without having heard the previous book. Derek Perkins delivers another superb performance, making this an audiobook I’d most certainly recommend to anyone looking for an angsty, darker-than-usual historical romance.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Fighting
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Tantor Audio
The Hunter was provided to AudioGals by Tantor Audio for a review.