by Catherine Coulter

October 1999
ISBN: 0-451-19850-6
Reviewer Graphic Button Signet Books
Mass Market Paperback

The Countess is a refreshing, almost startling, change from the modern romance novel. It was originally in print as The Autumn Countess, a Gothic novel that danced onto shelves masquerading as a Regency novel. In the author's own words…. "I've re-written the novel extensively to make it even more unabashedly Gothic in form, texture, and content, including use of first-person narration in the classic Gothic style." What is a Gothic story? The dictionary tells us, Gothic: Of or pertaining to a literary style of fiction prevalent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries which emphasized the grotesque, mysterious, and desolate: a gothic novel. (Examples of this would be Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allen Poe.) The writing in this novel is excellent and the first-person narration lends it a wonderful depth. The cover art is another wonderful bonus. The art department did a really wonderful job of conveying the mysterious and romantic Gothic flavor. This writing style is no longer prevalent in mainstream novels. This along with a truly captivating story combine to make The Countess a real treasure to find.

The Countess truly captures your attention and keeps you glued firmly between the covers of the book. Our story begins with Andrea Jameson; this little lady is no destitute governess, but beautiful, rich, and sadly suffering from a serious childhood trauma and the more recent trauma of losing her beloved Grandfather. Her vision of the world is badly tainted by her childhood fears and she thinks the best way to solve them is to hide from them. The best way to hide in her clouded but brilliant Machiavellian mind is to arrange a marriage with a widowed earl thrice her age. She thinks she will be safe and unburdened from the desires and demands of young men. She will run her elderly husband's household and, in return, he will leave her be. What does a wealthy elderly earl want with a beautiful heiress young enough to be his daughter? He doesn't want her in his bed - she made sure of that. Starting to see her exceptional blunder?

She does too when she meets Mr. Right. In walks John, the elderly earl's nephew and heir. Too bad she doesn't have long to contemplate her bleak and loveless future. Someone is trying to take her future away. Someone is trying to murder the new bride. But until then let Andrea (or Andy as she is called) share her first impression of John with you….

"Knowing his first name was fine. I wouldn't ever know anything more about him. I know to the soles of my slippers that he was dangerous. Any man who wore laughter like a well-loved shirt was dangerous."

Would you care to hear John's impression of Andy?

"When I first saw you in Hyde Park, I wanted to meet you." He shrugged and looked past me. "There was something about you that drew my interest. I recognized you were in deep mourning, but I promise you, there was never a wicked thought in my head. (Ah gentle reader, disappointed? But wait until later...) Then to my surprise you were rude. I remember wanting to smack you, but I couldn't, not being a gentleman. No, I bided my time until I saw you again."

I don't know about you, but I sensed a definite tension even from the first!

How about a small glimpse into the mystery of the would-be murdered?

"I don't know why I awoke for there was no sound, no shifting of light, no hint of a whisper…and then I saw it. I started shaking my head not wanting to believe it, but the thing didn't fade away, didn't move. It just stood there, stiff and silent like a frozen statue from Hell itself, dead and still not more than two feet from the foot of my bed."

Wonderful! I just loved it! If you are tired of more conventional run of the mill romance, this is the read for you. The relationships and depth of characters are a miracle to watch unfold. No shallow characters in this book! Let me know if you liked the challenge of reading an unconventional writing style, the wonderful blossoming of love and trust, or the spine tingling "whodunit", presented. Was the book as thrilling to you as it was to me? Or did you find the change in pace too much for a romance?

Reviewed in September 2001 by Renee.

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