The Wicked Duke - Madeline Hunter

Another highly enjoyable read from Madeline Hunter, who is an auto-buy author for me and has rarely disappointed me.  


This is the third book in a trilogy which features 4 brothers - a dead duke Percy, his two full siblings Ives and Lance, and his bastard half-brother Gareth. Percy was a very nasty man and there are rumours that he was murdered, although no cause of unnatural death has ever been determined. Lance (short for Lancelot), who takes over the dukedom, has never hidden the fact that he despised Percy, but when legal maneuvers start to implicate him as his brother's murderer, he finally has to take action to figure out what happened. One of things he is forced to do is marry Marianne, the niece of the local magistrate, who tells Lance that he knows someone who can implicate him in the murder, but that he will ensure that this never happens if Lance marries his niece (and thus ensures a great deal of social, economic and political advancement for the magistrate).  


Lance is attracted to Marianne, and she to him, so they get married, although Marianne constantly wonders what the true reason for him (a duke) marrying her (a nobody) really is. The real reason is finally revealed, much to Marianne's chagrin, but everything ends well, the murder is solved and Lance's reputation is saved.


Madeline Hunter has drawn some great characters again in this book - Marianne is especially fine - intelligent, observant and nobody's fool - there is a great scene where Lance is trying to seduce her, but when he goes too far too fast she punches him in the nose. The relationship between the three brothers is just about as good as the relationship between Marianne and Lance, and their banter is very funny. There is also a subplot about the magistrate's daughter, Marianne's younger cousin, who suffers from PTSD after a violent gang rape when she was 15, and whom Marianne has taken under her wing and worries about a great deal. 


I'm not sure how well this book reads as a standalone. I would recommend reading both previous books in the series before this one to get the full story - if you enjoy historical romance you won't be disappointed.