REVIEW: Behind the Castello Doors by Chantelle ShawWednesday, July 18, 2012 1:00
Chantelle Shaw makes a decent attempt at a modern gothic in this story. Only a few technical issues and the heroine, which is more my taste than a fault, stop this from getting top marks.
In the old days, writers like Victoria Holt wrote gothics based on the Jane Eyre pattern. Set in the Victorian era. A hapless but feisty heroine, usually a governess or poor relation, comes to a castle owned by a reclusive, sometimes scarred, sexy hero. The mystery of the hero’s tragedy is unwrapped, and the heroine helps him to get over it and attain his happiness. There are often small children and mad wives in the attic, or other deep, dark secrets.
Behind the Castello Doors follows a lot of this pattern, but it’s set in the present day. Sophie, the heroine, arrives at an Italian castello to confront the owner, Caesario, with the baby she believes her best friend bore him. That best friend died and left Sophie as legal guardian. Caesario has a scar down his face, sustained when trying to rescue his son from a car accident, an attempt that failed.
It’s a great setup. However, some issues bothered me, one of them not entirely down to Shaw. In this kind of story, we have to have the waif-like heroine with a backbone of steel. There is an early Mills and Boon book called From Waif to Wife, and I kept thinking of this while I was reading this book. Sophie is skinny. She was brought up in childrens’ homes. (Actually, she says her father abandoned her, but since she’s 23, that’s not quite accurate. If the father is known, even if he emigrates, as hers does, his wages can be garnished to provide money for her. Parents aren’t allowed to abandon their children these days, and the state has powers to prosecute them). She’s intelligent, but works as a cleaner, because in her previous job, she was accused of stealing earrings, planted in her room by her employer’s husband when he tried to seduce her but failed. She’s self-sacrificing to the max. She wears drab clothes bought at charity shops, except for one dress. She’s a virgin at 23.
Not my kind of heroine. Sophie could have redeemed herself if she’d stood her ground more. She doesn’t let Caesario steamroller her, but she’s not exactly proactive, either, and her backstory is everything thrown in to create a really miserable background. She isn’t beautiful to anyone but the hero, who of course recognizes her loveliness almost at once. He seems to be a breast man, but he’s happy with her modest pair, but every time we’re in his POV, he extols her breasts and nipples. Caesario is a bit more interesting, but he’s a little too out-of-the-hero-cupboard. He could be interchangeable with many heroes, and he’s more an object to be attained than a real person, even though a substantial part of the story is from his POV.
I mentioned technical issues. Shaw switches points of view too much for me, going from one to the other during the course of one scene. However, she rarely confuses the reader as to whose point of view she’s writing from, except for a couple of occasions where there are switches during one paragraph, and it becomes a bit of a tennis match.
At the beginning, there are a couple of really obtrusive info-dumps from Caesario’s perspective telling the reader all about his wife and the accident and how he got his facial scar. They could easily have been incorporated into the story itself. There are some irritating thought tags which are repeated. Caesario “broods” and “muses” an awful lot. They could have been eliminated. He also keeps calling her cara, which an Italian friend tells me is outdated and incorrect. It should be mi cara, or it just means “dear,” as you might address a shopkeeper or someone doing you a vague favour, and very few modern Italians use it, as it does mean “dear,” and is considered very old-fashioned.
Caesario uses protection, but he is described as being sheathed in rubber. That took me out of the narrative a bit. There is one fully described sex scene, which I found disappointing, as I would have liked more of how Sophie satisfies this man, what exactly is special about her, and I’d have liked a little less stock, a bit more originality. But on the whole, an undemanding, pleasant read.
Torment on his doorstep Cesario Piras, brooding master of the Castello del Falco, wasn’t prepared for the visitor who turned up on his doorstep during a raging storm – or for the little bundle bearing the Piras name she had in tow. Cesario’s head screamed Run, but his damaged heart began to betray him. Beth Granger knew the moment she knocked on the castle door that there was no going back. She had a job to do. But the moment Cesario looked deep into her pleading eyes her faultless plan crumbled around her…
Read an excerpt.