‘Murder in Thrall’: Mystery or Twisted Romance?

17165237Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland*
Kensington, July 30, 2013 (Mystery / Romance)
Series: Scotland Yard, Book 1
Rating: I’d go there again

Murder in Thrall was a strange book and I’m not really sure how I feel about it now that I’m finished reading. It was completely not what I was expecting and it was weird. I think that it will get mixed reviews from readers; that said, I couldn’t put it down and I definitely need to see how this dysfunctional couple works out.

Kathleen Doyle is a 24-year-old constable for New Scotland Yard. She works at the bottom of the totem pole, and she can’t believe her good fortune in getting a place at the Yard considering her lack of education. The one thing Doyle has going for her is her almost supernatural ability to tell whether or not a person is lying – very handy when you’re in police work. At some unknown point Doyle came to the attention to the superstar detective, Lord Acton. Yup, a peer of the realm is mixing it up with the masses and has a day job. At this point I’ll also mention that the setting is contemporary, which is why I was intrigued about the novel in the first place. I’m a die-hard historical romance fan, so seeing the peers in a contemporary setting was more than I could resist.

When the novel begins Doyle has been working with Acton for three months. She’s been feeling pretty apprehensive about the partnership since she is well aware that newbies like her don’t get pulled to work on homicide cases. What Doyle doesn’t know is that she could probably make every mistake in the book and Acton would still keep her around, since he’s completely obsessed with her. Prepare yourself, this is where things get weird.

Acton essentially comes out and tells Doyle that he’s got stalker tendencies and that he’s fixated on her. He wants to marry her and he’s been pretty invasive in digging into her life. You get Acton’s side of the story with tiny snippets from his point of view at the start of each chapter, and let me tell you, it’s creepy. He took pictures of her when she was sleeping! What’s so strange about this is the fact that instead of reporting this to HR, Doyle starts a relationship with Acton. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this fact and I have no idea how I feel about it. On the one hand, I feel like the relationship is doomed, but on the other hand I have to wonder if Doyle can somehow get Acton the help he obviously needs. This bizarre and possibly twisted relationship is why I will be back for book 2; I need to know where Cleeland is going with this.

The focus on the relationship is also why I wonder if this is more of a romance than a mystery. Yes, the mystery elements are there, but the focus on Doyle and Acton’s romantic relationship takes front seat in the novel. It’s certainly a type of romance that I’ve never read before: Acton makes Doyle check in every hour! And she goes along with it! Doyle’s behaviour goes against every feminist bone in my body, but I can’t help but be invested in the couple even while I’m freaking out about this young woman’s behaviour. And if the excerpt on the author’s website is any indication, Doyle and Acton’s relationship is about to get a whole lot more complicated. I am really curious as to what other people made of this novel and the dysfunctional relationship. I think it could bother a lot of people, but there’s no question that it kept me turning the pages.

One last thing to note with Murder in Thrall is the extensive use of slang. The novel is set in England and there is a ton of slang used, to the point where I was sure that the author was British, which she is apparently not. This took some getting used to while I was reading and did make me feel a little lost at times. But, I thought it was a nice touch and created a more realistic portrait of England (although I’m no judge of the accuracy of the slang, being a plain old Canadian).

Overall, this was an interesting read and I would recommend it based on the strange relationship between Doyle and Acton, while still recognizing how controversial this may be. As an avid reader, I recognize that this one stands out from the pack and it’s why I can see it doing well despite the stalker as a romantic interest. At any rate, readers will be taken in by the complexity that is Kathleen Doyle and attempt to determine why and if she should have proceeded the way she did; I know I am!

*e-ARC provided by NetGalley

Read-Alikes (click on any of the following to be taken to each book’s Goodreads desription):

A Thin Dark Line (Doucet #4)The Killing Hour (Quincy & Rainie, #4)The Search (Eve Duncan, #3)Hunting Fear (Bishop/Special Crimes Unit, #7)



  1. I read the first two books and it hit me-this is like twilight with detectives instead of vampires. She’s younger and less experienced with a powerful perception that intrigues him and he’s older and more sophisticated and super possessive and overly protective and besotted by her.

    The timing bugs me too-frequently we’ll find out something that already happened in an out of context, throwback way. I also have trouble figuring out how much time is passing.

    And he’s ruthlessly cold blooded in a way the author seems to be presenting as admirably gallant rather than criminal and homocidal.

    1. Twilight with Detectives – that’s brilliant and totally what this is! The romance bothered me so much that I never when to the effort of tracking down book two. Definitely an odd story.

  2. Close reading rewards here, and Acton did not take pictures of Doyle sleeping until after they were married, if you read and understand the entire book. Reading the second and third books really adds to the story.

    1. I’m not sure if I’m okay with Acton taking pictures after they’re married, I don’t think marriage is implied consent. But, considering Doyle agrees to marry Acton knowing he has problems… Not really a simple situation, I guess. You’ve made me want to check out the next two books!

  3. I’ve just started reading Murder in Thrall. I’m disappointed in the book because feel that the author stole Elizabeth’s George’s characters, Lynley and Barbara from the Inspector Lynley series. What do others think about this?

      1. Elizabeth George’s characters, Lynley and Barbara, are nearly identical with regard to their respective background and SES. This class difference adds to the structure and foundation of the ‘romance’ in their relationship. Lynley and Acton coming from a privileged and titled background, while Barbara and Doyle come from a lower-class background with little education, no fathers, and a sick/dying mother. Except in George’s series, Lynley isn’t perverse. Even the dialogue between the two characters in Cleeland’s book is strangely reminiscent of George’s character’s dialogue. I recommend the Inspector Lynley Series. I would love to hear from Cleeland about this obvious similarity.

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