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The Captive by Victoria Holt
I remember cringing a bit when I bought this novel shortly after its first printing. In those days the bodice-rippers often had their heroines enjoy stints in a harem, but I'd never imagined Victoria Holt to use this as well. I pictured her saying to her publisher "They want harems? I can give them harems, shipwrecks, pirates, deserted islands, just wait and see!" So she did, but it felt odd. Clinical. There was nothing sensuous about this harem life. Many Holt heroines aren't very sensual, but in this case she seemed totally devoid of hormones. She's stranded on an uninhabitated island with two young men, but there's nothing romantic about it. Nonetheless, and perhaps because they endured these hardships together she feels one of them is the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with. Unfortunately, he's on the run from the law and won't return to England with her. She sets herself the task of exonerating him. This explains the title of the book. In the first part she was a captive in the pasha's harem, but in the second part she was a prisoner of her own obsession.

Apart from the uncomfortable harem adventure, the book was good. A bit different from the usual Holt formula in that now the heroine acts as a regular sleuth, enlisting the help of several other people. She goes undercover as a governess at the manor where both the murder victim and the accused lived. Coming to know the family and the family's history, she uncovers one secret after another, putting herself in mortal danger, which brings us back on familiar terrain again.

My verdict: an 8 out of 10.

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