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Unruly Passions    by Kate Charles order for
Unruly Passions
by Kate Charles
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 1999 (1998)
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Kate Charles has always been a favorite of mine for her wonderful eccliastical mysteries. Set in small English cathedral towns, they center on the closed world of people and politics in the Anglican Church. After five great books, Charles decided to expand her horizons and started writing stand-alone mysteries without her continuing male/female detective team. These still contained people involved in the church but also were more integrated into the bigger world.

Unruly Passions is the first of these branching out mysteries and was followed by Cruel Habitations in 2000 and Strange Children in 2001 (both of which have been reviewed on this site). In this book the lives of two couples become linked. Gervase Finch is the local parson and his wife Rosemary is his loyal supporter and mother of their child Daisy, who has Down's syndrome. Margaret Phillips is the archdeacon and Gervase's superior while her husband Hal is a former high power businessman turned local housepainter.

At first their lives are moving nicely along with only the usual everyday problems. But then Hal is assigned by the church to paint Gervase's parsonage and encounters Rosemary. Although Hal and Rosemary both are happy in their relationships, they are lonely since the church demands most of their spouses' time. Kindred spirits in their appreciation of church music and life, they soon become involved romantically

To complicate matters Valerie Marler, a successful romance novelist who lives nearby, also becomes infatuated with the very handsome Hal when he paints her house. Acting as if she could control real life as she controls the characters in her books, Valerie decides to ensnare Hal. Along the way, there is a murder and Daisy disappears on a school outing. Then Gervase and Margaret learn of Hal and Rosemary's relationship. Charles realistically shows the sad complications that follow and that life does not always provide a happy ending.

Unruly Passions is the least satisfying of the recent stand-alone Charles books. It almost seems as if she was aiming for romantic suspense rather than mystery. However, Charles is always good at creating believable characters with whom one wants to spend time, and her books never fail to entertain. Fortunately as the later Cruel Habitations and Strange Children show, the author now seems to have mastered this style of book; I hope she has another one in preparation right now.

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