Narrated by Ashford MacNab
Kelly Bowen has quickly made herself a place on my list of auto-buy authors by virtue of her ability to tell an entertaining and well-paced story with intelligence and humour and to create attractive, well-rounded protagonists and sizzling sexual tension. A Duke to Remember is her fifth book, and while I’ve enjoyed the others I’ve read and listened to, this is a real standout and easily my favourite so far.
Elise de Vries is right-hand woman to Ivory Moore, the proprietor of Chagarre & Associates, a company that specialises in making scandal disappear and fixing the seemingly unfixable. Elise has been approached by Abigail, daughter of the Duchess of Ashland, who is distraught at the discovery that her mother has been committed to Bedlam by her nephew, Francis Ellery. With the duke dead and the heir to the title missing – believed dead – Ellery is bent upon securing the massive Ashland fortune for himself by whatever means necessary. Abigail wants Elise to find a way to obtain the duchess’ release – and on learning that Abigail’s brother is actually still alive, it seems that Elise’s first step must be to find a man who has been missing for the past fifteen years and persuade him to return to London in order to assume the title and responsibilities that are his birthright.
Acting on information received from Abigail, Elise travels to a small Nottinghamshire village where she hopes to find some clues as to the duke’s whereabouts. But just as she arrives, she comes across a group of boys playing near the river and, when one of them falls in, she doesn’t hesitate and dives in to save him. Elise is a strong swimmer and manages to get to the boy and bring him close to the bank when she is hauled out of the water by a pair of strong hands – and looks up into the face of the most handsome man she’s ever seen. The man introduces himself as Noah Lawson, and even though Elise is exhausted and dripping wet, the boy’s clothes she’d worn for travelling all but ruined, she immediately recognises the frisson that rushes through her as one of startlingly strong physical attraction.
Noah Lawson has lived quietly on his small farm of the outskirts of the village for the past fifteen years. He is well liked in the community and is regarded as family by the local blacksmith, John Barr, who took him in as a wary eighteen-year-old with no questions asked. He is completely astonished at the powerful attraction he feels for this unknown woman, and equally surprised at the way he feels so immediately comfortable with her. As they talk, he finds himself opening up to her more than he has with anyone, and is somewhat floored by her reaction to his confession that he sometimes has trouble keeping words straight in his head and having a simple conversation. Her acceptance is something outside of his experience; and he, in turn, comes to know more about her, sensing that, like him, she has endured great suffering – and worse.
The more Elise learns about Noah Lawson, the more convinced she becomes that he is actually Noah Ellery, Duke of Ashland and the man she has been sent to find. She knows she’s good at what she does and that her ability to locate missing people is second to none, but she can’t help but be amazed at the ease with which she has located her quarry. And so might the listener be – but the author makes it work by having the audience share in Elise’s surprise, making it easier for us to accept the rather fortuitous coincidence. The chemistry between the couple is intense, even in the early stages of their relationship, but Elise knows she must keep her distance and her detachment, no matter how difficult that is in the face of the growing emotional connection between them. Noah is clearly a good, kind man who was treated appallingly by those who were supposed to love and care for him, and she hopes that by appealing to him on behalf of his sister and his mother she will be able persuade him to return to the life he was born to. But Noah is not interested in becoming a duke. It’s not surprising, when the listener learns the devastating truth about his past, that he wishes to have nothing to do with his family, but when he and Elise are targeted by killers sent to dispose of him by his cousin, Noah realises it’s time for him to step up and do what must be done.
A Duke to Remember is a cracking story in terms of the romance –which is superbly written and developed – and the plotline that charts Noah’s struggle to reconcile his past with his future. Both Elise and Noah are strong, immensely likeable characters who have done things they are not proud of in order to survive and who have spent much of their lives playing a part. We know from the previous book (Duke of My Heart) that Elise is a talented actress who has a chameleon-like ability to transform herself into the various characters she plays, but she is starting to second guess herself, and to ask herself if she knows who she really is anymore. And Noah, whose backstory is truly heart-breaking, has some serious soul-searching to do, too. They are a pair of survivors, a very well-matched couple who have moved on from tragedy in their pasts, but who don’t spend hours navel-gazing or letting it get in the way of the things they want and need in the present.
I enjoyed the story very much indeed, and am eagerly awaiting the next, which features Elise’s charming brother, Alex, a gaming club owner who also assists Chagarre with its many investigations. This story also brings back the enigmatic King, who took a villainous role in Duke of My Heart, but whose past turns out to be unexpectedly and intriguingly bound up with Noah’s and who I am now hoping is going to get a book of his own.
Also returning is Ashford MacNab, and her narration here is one of her very best. I’ve had some issues in the past with her male voices, and there’s no denying that in her portrayal of Noah she uses her standard, somewhat nasal “hero voice”. But there’s a lot more light and shade to her characterisation here than I’ve found with some of the other performances of hers I’ve listened to recently, with the result that Noah sounds like the sexy, kind, protective and, when necessary, deadly man he is on the page. Her interpretation of him is definitely one of the production’s strengths. Her pacing is – as usual – perhaps a little on the slow side, but it doesn’t detract from the listening experience, and has the advantage of allowing her the time to infuse the performance with the appropriate emotional nuance, something I always enjoy about her narrations. The other characters are all clearly delineated according to age and station, and while, in a late scene between Noah and the Duke of Aldridge (hero of Duke of My Heart) the two men sound very similar, there are enough subtle differences and textual indicators for the listener to be able to work out who is speaking.
A Duke to Remember is a wonderful love story about two emotionally bruised but resilient people finding each other and I’m happy to recommend it on the strength of both story and narration.
Book Content: A-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Hachette Audio
A Duke to Remember was provided to AudioGals by Hachette Audio for a review.