Picks and Pans Review: The Black Opal

updated 09/20/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/20/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Victoria Holt

Holt, the British author who died last January, was best known for her hugely popular mystery romances that often featured on their covers young women with streaming hair running away from dark country mansions. As a rule, Holt heroines had beautiful eyes, exotic names and pasts shrouded in mystery; her plots were formulaic, her prose florid. Even for romance-hungry adolescents, these ingredients can lose their flavor after three or four books. But fortunately for Holt's publishers and heirs, every three seconds or so a preteen is born—just the audience for this final, quite typical opus.

Carmel March is discovered as an infant under an azalea bush at Commonwood House. Though Mrs. Marline, mean mistress of the manor, initially wants to dispatch the foundling to an orphanage, her tenderhearted husband insists the babe remain at Commonwood. There Carmel is ensconced until the age of 10, when tragic—and of course mysterious—doings send her to Australia. There Carmel is ensconced until the age of 17, when tragic—if not mysterious—doings send her back to England and to rich, handsome Sir Lucian Crompton, who had been so kind to her as a child. And she is beset by the realization of what she'd been hurried away from seven years earlier: murder. Worse, she is haunted by a belief that the wrong person was fingered for the crime. Will Carmel discover what really happened that fateful day at Commonwood House? Will she locate the true perpetrator? Will she learn the significance of opals? Will she find true love? Haven't you been paying attention? (Doubleday, $22)

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