Review: Shadowed Stranger by Carole Mortimer (1982)

Heat Factor: Bruising kisses, plus one scene where they remove all their clothes (but don’t get far because Rick has broken ribs)

Character Chemistry: They bring out the worst in each other

Plot: Robyn falls for an older man, and then discovers he’s not who he says he is

Overall: If you dig dubcon kisses and predatory age gaps, then this was a quick and oddly compelling read

If you read our group post on Monday, the first thing you’re probably wondering is: is there any “stranger” content in this book? Yes, yes there is. 

The set up here is that Robyn lives in a twee English village. A reclusive man moves into the deserted cottage down the lane. He occasionally comes to the local shop for tea, but he mostly keeps to himself; this includes him literally telling Robyn to stay off his lawn the first time they meet. Of course, Robyn does not stay off his lawn, but Reclusive Rick does not tell her anything about himself: why he’s in town, what he’s working on, his real name, nothing.

Despite Rick’s repeated rude behavior—including one scene where he and Robyn argue in his car and he leaves her on the side of the road to make her own way home—Robyn finds herself in love with Rick. Now, I wouldn’t say I bought this as true love. More like: Robyn decides that she loves Rick to be contrary when her father tells her to be careful, and then it kind of sticks in her brain? Rick, for his part, sort of pretends to try to resist this nubile young lady, but mostly just says horrible things to her to rile her up and then grabs and kisses her. Classic. 

Things really get interesting around the midway point, when Rick disappears without a word. Robyn is devastated, in proper 18-year-old first-love form. However, she starts dating a nice new boy after a few weeks, and through this age-appropriate young man, she meets Rick once again. Except this time, his name is Oliver, and he’s with a woman who seems like she’s his wife. 

Now the tables turn, and  Rick decides that he wants to aggressively pursue Robyn to convince her to marry him. Since Robyn (and by extension the reader) assumes Rick to be married at this point, she keeps telling him to leave her alone, which he ignores. I didn’t love this, but I know that there are readers who really like this kind of aggressive courtship dynamic.

The 1982 Harlequin Presents edition

I’ve spent a lot of time on plot here, and I think that’s because I don’t really have much to say about the characters. Rick, the eponymous shadowed stranger, doesn’t get less shadowy or strange as the story progresses. (Though I did find the reveal of what he’s writing during his twee village retreat pretty funny.) We see a bit of Robyn’s interior life, but not much—she’s childish and contrary and really young and, uh, works at the library. 

The most interesting piece of this book is the social commentary; there’s a *lot* of stuff here about what it means to have a “boyfriend” and what kind of “girl” is suitable to marry, as well as assumptions about gender roles and what kind of domestic work we can expect a man to do. (The answer, in case you’re curious, is none. Not even a hint of bachelor cookery here.) And in the edition I found—a Harlequin Presents reprint of the British Mills & Boon original—there’s a delightful little note explaining bicycling as a commuting option to the American audience.

The 2018 Harlequin Presents edition

When I went to pull the cover for this post, I discovered that Harlequin Presents rereleased this title as an e-book in 2018, with a brand-new blurb that more accurately reflects what happens in the story.

Sidenote: In my opinion, the original Mills & Boon cover art most accurately depicts the vibe of this book, though I do appreciate the grey hair on Rick in the 1982 Harlequin. The 2018 cover is utter nonsense.

I am curious as to whether Mortimer updated anything in the text to reflect changing mores around dating and marriage. From the marketing language on the Harlequin website, it seems like the answer is no. Is this what 21st century readers of Harlequin Presents are still looking for? Or was this a nostalgia read for many readers? The reviews on Goodreads are decidedly mixed. (If there are any megafans of the line, please weigh in! I’m genuinely curious!)

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar?

The 1980s

Category Romances

Age Gaps

3 thoughts on “Review: Shadowed Stranger by Carole Mortimer (1982)”

  1. I just love these retro reviews! You gals at the Smut Report cover such a wide range of books which I so appreciate. When looking for new romances to read you are my go to blog!

    As for Carol Mortimer? She’s always been a mixed bag for me. Some of her heroes from back in the day were the absolute worst of the worst: cheaters, rapist, adulterers, dead beat dads, etc. As a Harley fan I have a high tolerance for old school crappy heroes; but they needed heroines who gave them a good kick to the proverbial nuts, like Charlotte Lamb usually wrote.

    But then sometimes Mortimer could write confident, head over heels in love heroes that were truly kind human beings. Very strange. I gave her a wider bearth than some other authors because of I’m shallow & adore blond men. Her many blond MMCs were unique in the HP line, filled with Arab sheikhs, and Greek & Latin magnates.

    I have this one but have yet to read it, and i’m in no hurry now, LOL.

    Agree with your opinion on the the cover design, as the M & B artists generally captured the essence of the books better than their Canadian/ US counterparts, with some notable exceptions.

    Mortimer has written about two hundred plus books & was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 for her ‘outstanding service to literature’.

    In the mid 2010s, she started self publishing regency and military romances that were much steamier than any of her HPs! The new heroes are more tolerable & modern minded, but unfortunately the plots aren’t as wack-tastic, which perversely I do enjoy.

    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And thanks for all the details about Carole Mortimer and her books! I’ve only really started reading category romance since we started the blog, so learning about them has been fascinating. (though a daunting process—there are so many lines and authors and subcategories!)

      Re: the blond heroes, I feel like there’s a whole dissertation that could be written about the “tall dark and handsome” hero in romance novels. Maybe someday I’ll feel cogent enough to tackle at least a blog post about it.

      And I’m with you on the wacktastic plots! Give me ALL THE BONKERS!


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