Amanda Quick / aka Jayne Castle / aka Jayne Ann Krentz, is the astoundingly prolific New York Times best-selling author of over three score titles. With more than 35 million books in print and still counting, this Seattle-based author clearly knows what her readers want.
Last year she launched a new, Victorian-era paranormal romance series, "The Ladies of Lantern Street," under the Amanda Quick pseudonym. The second book in this series was published late last month.
The heroine in "The Mystery Woman" is Beatrice Lockwood, a flame-haired paranormal investigator whose previous work as a psychic at the Academy of the Occult was cut short when her mentor was murdered.
Now she is employed as a lady's paid companion-for-hire (that's Victorian-speak for discreet security detail) through the Flint and Marsh Agency, located on Lantern Street in London.
Her assignment of the moment involves overseeing a spirited lass at a high society ball - and when Beatrice needs to move fast to foil an attempted kidnapping of the reckless young lady, she is aided by an enigmatic stranger with a pronounced limp and a distinctive cane.
It turns out that the interceptor, Joshua Gates, has actually been tailing Beatrice as the likely suspect in a blackmail plot against his sister.
She eventually dissuades him of that erroneous theory, but something clicks between the two, and they end up forming a wary alliance as they head down a trail that involves Egyptian treasure, a cold-blooded killer with a Russian accent, and a mad scientist in possession of a beautiful cadaver.
Joshua is skeptical of Beatrice's extra-sensory abilities, which chiefly seem to involve reading the iridescent psychic energy residues of footprints. (And, judging from the lack of useful information Beatrice manages to summon through her psychic abilities over the course of this story, readers might wind up being a little dubious, too.)
Nonetheless, there is indisputable chemistry of various kinds in this book - and an assignment at a party at a country estate turns into a heated assignation, as well.
"The Mystery Woman" relies on journeyman-like writing that moves the players from Point A to Point B with diligence, if not artistry. The chapters are heavy on dialogue, which tends toward arch banter, but on a few occasions veers suddenly into frank professions of smittenry. (Yes, I just invented that word.)
Quick/Krentz's basis for the series - the agency on Lantern Street - is a good one. The women who own the establishment are partners "in business as well as in life," and clearly the lady-agents who are going to populate this series will be beautiful, smart, resourceful, and psychically attuned.
A former librarian, Krentz is an articulate champion of popular fiction, especially romance novels. I appreciate her argument that popular fiction extols the virtues of courage, determination, honor and the healing power of love - values, she says, that are vital for the survival of our species.
Still and all, I might wish that her wordsmithing exhibited more finesse.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.