First Sentence Hook:
"On any given day, someone writhed in exquisite pleasure at the home of the most sought after courtesan in Amjerat. Unfortunately for Captain Greydon Quinn, on this day it wasn't him."
Wow, you have to admire that-- heat, humor, and an exotic setting all in two knockout sentences. I mean, "writhed"-- that's a word with punch, you know?
Even better, this opening is a lovely kernel of Quinn's character and how he relates to the heroine, as you learn while it unfolds.
While Marlowe's story doesn't exceed typical genre boundaries for sex and violence, she makes a bold move by putting them both in the first five pages, and she doesn't mess around with tentative versions of either one.
One of the interesting aspects of this story is that Quinn retains a certain youthful idealism, though he is by no means innocent, while Viola is definitely more the pragmatist of the two. I liked that neither of them were to one extreme or the other, but the tendencies were gender-reversed. I had a sense that Quinn was supposed to be a tough guy, but he has an unexpected sweetness and generosity.
Now, Viola is a jewel thief. There's just something about that trope (is it a trope?) that I enjoy. I can think of a number of authors who've done this - Jane Feather, Alyssa Day, Shana Abe', Nora Roberts, and Meagan McKinney come to mind (and readers? I just spent about an hour trying to dig McKinney's name out of 15 years' worth of my brain's archives. I do this for you, mwah.) There's a Robin-Hood flavor, as the victims are by definition wealthy, and I don't know, I just like reading about jewels, so sue me. I found Viola to be daring, smart, and likable - great combination.
The Plot and the Paranormal
Although there's nothing lacking to the characters, I felt that this is more of a plot-driven story. Marlowe has crafted a taut and twisty page-turner with surprises around every turn. It's my favorite kind of thriller, with real suspense but not a lot of graphic torture or violence (although the villains meet bad ends, as is right and proper).
One common/recurring paranormal theme or "power" is psychometry, or the ability to "see" or understand things about an object by touching it. For whatever reason, it's a premise that particularly appeals to me, more than certain other recurring "gifts"-- somehow it just seems not only sort of plausible, but awfully useful, and interesting, and potentially dangerous. Great story fodder with lots of potential directions. In Touch of a Thief, Viola experiences the history of a jewel when it touches her skin-- she can "see" what has happened to other people who were touching the stone, and the stones also "speak" to her with unique resonances. This is a great advantage to a jewel thief, as she can instantly tell the real thing from even the best fakes. The other paranormal aspect of the story is the cursed jewel that they seek - a red diamond. I like that there's a strong connection across the paranormal pieces.
I've noticed a number of books lately where the paranormal powers allow the characters to bypass certain genre routines - getting to know one another, misunderstandings, even the epiphany moment or question of "do I love him" or "does he love me" etc is sometimes just handed to the character rather than something that has to be learned, earned, or unfolded. This can be OK if it leaves room for other interesting twists, and I think Marlowe accomplished that. In this case, even though Viola got a shortcut to Quinn's secret from one of Quinn's personal gems, she still misinterpreted events, which led to conflict. (I hope that makes sense...)
While the cursed-gem aspect of this story didn't appeal to me hugely, it was consistent and tight throughout the book and worked. I just found it a bit over-the-top for a story where the paranormal wasn't exactly "out of the closet," and some of the physical evidence of it seemed like it might have raised more questions.
Like Viola herself, the love scenes in this book are uninhibited, lush, and gorgeous. I have a small quibble with Quinn using the Hindi anatomical words in his internal narrative-- this can be explained by the opening scene where we learn that he is a student with an exotic Indian teacher, but I can't help but think that an Englishman is going to think of his dick in English, foreign lessons notwithstanding. Minor, though; and let's face it, no matter what word an author chooses to represent "vulva" or "vagina" or "penis" or "scrotum," it's not going to appeal to everyone.
Touch of a Thief is great read - pick it up if you like historical in general, and especially if you're a bit tired of the standard Regency offering. Marlowe delivers Victorian adventure, spice and romance in a tight paranormal package.
If you have reviewed Touch of a Thief, feel free to leave a link and I'll edit it in.
Disclosure: a review copy was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.