I love a good heist story: Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s 8, (we’re pretending the other Oceans in between don’t exist), The Italian Job, the TV show The Catch, all of them are my catnip. It’s no wonder I absolutely loved To Catch an Earl since it’s a love story about a thief and the man charged with catching her. It’s a heist story, and a game of cat and mouse all in one. It’s just wonderfully, wonderfully fun.
Alex Harland, Earl of Melton, works as an investigator for Bow Street since returning from the Napoleonic Wars. He’s been tasked with finding a jewel thief known as The Nightjar due to the single black feather left in the place of each stolen jewel.
Emmy Danvers is the daughter of the original Nightjar. Her late father was on a quest to steal back the French Crown Jewels and return them to France when he died. Emmy had no plans of resuming her father’s illegal activity until her family was blackmailed by some guy named Danton to steal for him. Emmy’s brother Luc lost his leg during the Battle of Trafalgar, so it is up to Emmy to assume the mantle of The Nightjar.
Emmy has to steal the jewels Danton wants to appease him and keep her family safe. Alex has to find The Nightjar and bring her to justice. Fairly early in the book he assumes Emmy is the thief, but can’t prove it, and what follows is some delicious enemies-to-lovers flirting through crime.
In this scene Emmy has broken into a museum to steal a diamond, and leaves Alex a little surprise:
Emmy unlocked the cabinet, lifted the hinged lid, slipped the blue diamond into her shirt pocket, and replaced it with the feather. Then she studied the rest of the rocks, searching for the perfect one with which to tease Alexander Harland.
Obsidian, volcanic glass? She bent to read the description. An igneous rock. Derived from the Latin ignis, meaning fire, formed by the solidification of lava. Alex Harland certainly raised her temperature by a few hundred degrees, but that wouldn’t do. The comparison was far too flattering.
She glanced at the next lump. Granite? A hard stone. His eyes were certainly hard-glittering and accusatory. His heart, at least where women were concerned, was doubtless just as petrified. His thighs, and the muscles of his chest–Stop that. No, he was not granite. Granite was common, and there was nothing common about Harland.
What about amber? The name came from the Greek word elektron, because it held a static charge. Father had shown her the trick of rubbing an amber bead against her hair and then using the charged stone to pick up a torn-off scrap of tissue paper, as if by magic. Alex Harland exerted the same invisible pull on her. She felt that static shock, that quick snap of awareness when their eyes met, when his body brushed hers. She shivered.
At the next rock she paused, read the description, and quelled the desire to giggle like a lunatic. Oh, that was perfect! She withdrew the official museum card and replaced it with her own. What she wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when Harland saw what she’d done.
Then in the next chapter:
They stopped in front of the cabinet. The glass was still intact. There was no evidence of forced entry, but the diamond was notably absent. A lone black feather lay in its place. Franks pointed to a folded ridge of card, propped up next to another specimen nearby.
“The thief not only took the diamond, they also replaced that particular label.
Alex bent to read the note and his brows rose in affronted disbelief.
Specimen: Meltonium Harlandii. Locale: London and its environs. Defining characteristics: Inert. Dull in appearance. Particularly dense. No practical uses. Almost worthless.
“What kind of rock is that,” Alex asked very softly.
“A meteorite,” Franks supplied. “It is, in all probability, the oldest thing on this entire planet.”
Behind him Alex heard Seb snort, then give up any pretense of trying to quash his laughter. “Oh, that’s priceless! Alex Harland: old and thick and not of this world!”
I loved the teasing and the flirting and the cat and mouse games that Alex and Emmy played. All of their interactions are charged with a wonderful sexual tension, but what worked so much for me was that they challenge each other and consider each other equals and worthy opponents. They are both enjoying the chase. When the HEA does come around, the book navigates their positions on opposite sides of the law in a way that was satisfying and didn’t feel as though either character was sacrificing who they were in order to be together.
Alex is also a lovable curmudgeon, which is one of my favorite hero archetypes. He was given his Earldom for service in the war, but he’s not content to just be an aristocrat. He loves investigating for Bow Street and needs that mental challenge. Part of the reason I love the curmudgeon hero is that it’s so satisfying to watch them soften and unravel a bit when they fall for the heroine. Alex is attracted to Emmy, both physically and intellectually, but he finds her ability to elude him infuriating and annoying, creating a great tension along the lines of “I hate you but I can’t stop thinking about your hair, damnit.”
I also loved the descriptions of how Emmy committed her crimes. Part of the fun of a heist story is the description of how cleverly the heist unfolds. The scenes where Emmy and Luc, along with their grandmother and Sally, who plays the part of a servant but is really a co-conspirator, plan and execute each theft were tremendous fun to read. I also liked that Emmy didn’t work in a vacuum. Her family and Sally were vital to the success of each theft and they support her so she’s not alone.
And even though Emmy is blackmailed into becoming The Nightjar, that doesn’t stop her from enjoying herself:
Girls were scolded for laughing too loudly, for dancing too enthusiastically. For revealing they had a working brain. Part of Emmy’s delight in thieving had come from the knowledge that she was subverting every expectation. Breaking all the rules.
There’s a lot of action in this book as well, which was a nice break as a lot of the historicals I’ve been reading have been mostly set in a ballroom. To Catch an Earl is a fun, fast-paced read with lots of sexual tension and capers a-plenty. It’s been one of my favorite books so far this year and I highly recommend it.