Intriguing mystery, heartwarming romance

Through the Smoke - Brenda Novak
The set up
Truman Stanhope, the earl of Druridge, has lived under a cloud of suspicion for two years. His unfaithful wife, Katherine, died in a fire at their manor home and many believe at his hand. Truman has no memory of what happened, only that he was on his way to confront her after learning she was pregnant with someone else's child. He believes Rachel McTavish and her family know who set the fire and he'll use any means to force her cooperation. 

The issues
Rachel's father recently died and her mother is desperately ill so she's willing to accept medical help facilitated by the earl in return for telling him what she knows. When the people in the village learn of her betrayal of sorts, they turn on her and she's ostracized. Truman and Rachel are falling for each other but she's a commoner and he's facing the gallows if he doesn't find the real killer or succumb to the demands of a benefactor that can thwart his dead wife's family's efforts to charge him with the crime. 

What I enjoyed
The mix of romance and mystery in an historical setting was a nice change of pace. Truman was a decent man, if not sometimes a bit clueless, and he was immediately taken by the bright and educated Rachel. She was strong willed, intelligent and attractive but still respectful of the social constraints of the 1830s. Their relationship was given an unintended boost and things steamed up pretty quickly. The obstacles they were forced to deal with because of her commoner status and his position made the affair poignant and really touching. Neither wasted a lot of time denying their feelings and there was always a sense that they were star-crossed lovers. 

Solving the mystery was also interesting as there was a nice range of suspects to consider and my choices seem to change with each chapter. I still was unsure until the final reveal. 

What bugged me somewhat
Truman's passiveness drove me crazy at times. While he was passionate about Rachel, his reluctance to effectively deal with those who betrayed him time and again was maddening. In fairness, I think his behavior was perfectly fitting for the aristocracy of that era. It still was irritating:)

The bottom line
This was an intriguing mystery, a heartwarming romance and an interesting story overall. My frustrations with Truman aside, I liked how his relationship with Rachel developed. I'm not an expert of this era but the details of the story seemed accurate for the period. And, I know this isn't intended to be a series but there are some secondary characters that really should be explored (hello, Penelope!). 

(I received an ARC from NetGalley)