Jen Turano. Playing the Part. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2016. See here to buy the book.
Playing the Part is set in New York city in the late nineteenth century. Lucetta Plum is an actress. Her step-father Nigel is a gambling addict, and he loses a game of cards to Silas Ruff. Lucetta is shocked and outraged to learn that Nigel gambled Lucetta!
Lucetta is friends with a widow, Abigail Hart, who enjoys matchmaking. Abigail wants to set Lucetta up with her rich grandson, Bram Haverstein. Bram is eccentric, but in a lovable sort of way. His mansion seems to be haunted, however, and it has strange devices. When Bram and Lucetta awkwardly meet, Bram recognizes her as the actress Lucetta Plum, and he is enamored with her work. Lucetta is reluctant to get involved with a fan, though, because she feels that fans value her persona on stage, not her.
The first third or so of the book was really good. Jen Turano set up the plot well. Her writing style was sophisticated rather than dumb-downed. I could sympathize and empathize with the characters, on some level. Bram shone in all his eccentricities, as Lucetta shone in her vulnerability and self-protectiveness.
As the book went on, though, it interested me less and less. It was probably after Bram proposed to Lucetta to keep her safe from Silas Ruff that my interest lessened. The dialogue between Bram and Lucetta got old after a while. There were a lot of characters to follow. The resolution of the mystery of the “haunted mansion” was rather anticlimactic, as even characters in the book admitted. The book had a scattered feel to it. When Abigail got together with Archibald at the end, I wondered who Archibald was. Apparently, he was discussed earlier in the book, but not enough for me, as a reader, to care. Things were also resolved in a rushed manner.
There were still fairly good elements of the book after my interest lessened, even if they could have been developed or executed better. Bram’s sister Rosa stopped looking for a suitor in high society because she preferred the strong, silent type of man, meaning the Stoic Mr. Skukman. We learn about how Lucetta’s mother ended up with Nigel: she had always loved him, even before she married Lucetta’s father.
One aspect that did not entirely set right with me was that Lucetta often played a damsel in distress on stage. Bram was attracted to that persona, since he was the sort of person who liked to rescue people; after all, he employed convicts at his mansion! But he came to be attracted to the real Lucetta: intelligent, independent, knowledgeable, witty, a shrewd investor! Still, in one scene, he did save her when she was in peril. Maybe I would have preferred for Lucetta to play her independent persona on stage and for Bram to be attracted to that, as if that set her apart from other actresses. But Turano went in the direction that she went, and I do not count that as among the negative elements of the book.
The book was somewhat lacking of a spiritual element. One would expect more of a spiritual element in a Bethany House book. But spirituality did not seem to play a significant role in Lucetta’s rushed healing. When it occasionally did come into play, it related to how God works things out for good in people’s lives. Maybe I would have preferred for characters to draw on God’s strength in times of suffering.
On the scattered nature of the book, some have pointed out that we encounter some of these characters in other novels by Jen Turano. Perhaps I would have felt more comfortable with the characters had I read the other books, and the fault for my impression lies with me, the reader. At the same time, I see no indication from the book itself—-on the cover or anywhere else—-that the book is part of a series. If the book is part of the series, then that should have been made clear. Technically, the book can stand on its own, but reading the other books may enhance one’s appreciation of the characters.
In short, the book started out well, but it then fell flat.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.