The Passionate Sinner by Violet Winspear is a vintage Harlequin Presents romance novel that follows the story of Merlin, a nurse who accidentally blinds Dr. Paul van Setan, a brilliant surgeon. She seeks redemption and gets a job as his secretary on an Indonesian island.
This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, Sweet Savage Flame earns a small percentage from qualifying purchases.The Passionate Sinner by Violet Winspear
Imprint or Line: Harlequin Presents #222
Published by: Harlequin, Mills & Boon
Genres: Category Romance, Contemporary Romance
Buy on: Amazon, AbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader
TOTAL SPOILER ALERT ⚠
Strap yourselves in, kiddos; we’re in for a wild ride. Violet Winspear—one of my favorite authors from the Harlequin Presents line—created one of their craziest and most legendary books with The Passionate Sinner.
Merlin is a student nurse assisting Dr. Paul van Setan. (Setan—Satan, get it? Violet Winspear loved naming her heroes after the Prince of Darkness.) Dr. van Setan is excellence personified, and little Merlin crushes on him hard.
Paul, being the sexy doctor he was, had nurses throwing themselves at him. But the doctor is a professional. A rival sister to Merlin throws herself at Paul, who wants none of it.
After surgery, the good doctor asks for eye drops, which the spurned nurse switches. Merlin hands the drops to Dr. van Setan—the drops turn out to be glue!
Paul is blinded by Merlin, who swears she wasn’t responsible (and she’s right!). Merlin cannot shake off the guilt she feels for being a part of Paul’s tragedy.
Paul moves to an Indonesian island, where he reigns with power like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
Merlin follows. She gets a job as the doctor’s secretary, portraying herself as a middle-aged spinster to get hired. Merlin is consumed by her feelings of hopeless love, guilt, and fear. She worries that he will uncover her deception and realize that she is the girl responsible for blinding him.
Despite her fear, she is relieved that Paul accepts her as the older woman she is pretending to be, and they form a strong working relationship. Merlin is practical and sensitive, and she never makes Paul feel like a burden or useless.
The servants in the house are puzzled and amused by Merlin’s pretense of being an older woman, but they like her. They are happy that the bitter and lonely hero has someone to make his life a little less bleak. They keep her secret and do not reveal her true identity to Paul.
She gets drawn into the hero’s virile realm. Their relationship develops with moments of tenderness and cruelty. However, as the villagers can–unlike Paul–plainly see she’s not an elderly woman, gossip ensues. A virile man as he is living with such a young woman must be using her as his mistress. Merlin hopes the gossip won’t reach Paul’s ears.
Paul gets intimately close to Merlin during a storm as they are forced to lock in an embrace (in Romancelandia, that’s the only way to survive a storm). Merlin’s deception is revealed after he gets to feel her body, which spurs him to nights of turgid suffering.
“I want you. I’m sick and tired of stumbling around alone; my days are like nights, and my nights are as lonely as hell. I had you in my arms during the storm’s rage, and I felt a sudden storm raging in me, sweeping away the arguments with myself that I could only be a burden on a woman, drowning out the restraints I’ve imposed on myself because I shrank from being a mere object of pity to anyone. Yes, I want your silky hair against my skin, your mouth on mine, blotting out the loneliness, your slim shape next to me, alive and young and warm, so I’ll know I’m still alive and not buried in some black hole in the ground!”
Paul proposes marriage. Although they share one tender night of lovemaking on their honeymoon, Paul’s cruelty continues due to his bitterness over his blindness. Their intimacy turns rough and impersonal. Despite hardships, Merlin holds back Paul’s darkness and loneliness for a time.
Merlin then gets pregnant but fears Paul’s reaction due to his past cruelty. A dramatic turn of events leads to Paul regaining his sight and confessing his love.
However! Violet Winspear has a thing about maiming her heroes. Poor Paul regains his vision. But he loses his arm, after a machete wielding lunatic hacks away at it!
Merlin and Paul reconcile and experience a romantic happy ending against Indonesia’s lush backdrop.
This was the wonderful Violet Winspear at her best. Of course, the caveat: The Passionate Sinner is very old-school, and if you read this book with a modern mindset, you might charge like a bull at all problematic red flags. But if you appreciate this for what it is and what it was when published, it’s a superb piece of romantic fiction.
Violet Winspear’s works are celebrated for their intense drama, sometimes even reaching operatic heights. Her writing is replete with vivid depictions of hidden emotional realms, powerful dialogues about primal instincts that drive both men and women. At the core of her narratives,is an all-consuming love that sweeps readers off their feet and captures their hearts.
For a Harlequin Presents circa 1977, this book was a sizzling category romance. But by today’s standards, at best very warm, no need for the A/C.
I’ll split the difference and mark it Seventies Sensual.
Final Analysis of The Passionate Sinner
The Passionate Sinner explores themes of love, forgiveness, and sacrifice. This is Winspear at her best.
For readers who enjoy dark alpha heroes and self-sacrificing heroines amidst whirlwind drama, The Passionate Sinner delivers a satisfying and highly dramatic experience, as only Violet Winspear can provide.
|Rating Report Card|
As a nurse, Merlin had worshipped the brilliant surgeon Paul van Setan – and she was completely shattered by the dreadful accident in which she was the unwitting cause of destroying his sight and his career into the bargain. She was determined to make amends in some way – and when she learned that Paul was now living on an island off the coast of Indonesia where he was trying to build a new life and that he needed a secretary, she managed to get the job. But of course, he had no idea who she really was. How long could she keep the truth from him–and what would be his reaction if and when he found out?”
What, Merlin Lakeside wondered, could she do with the love building inside her? There seemed no way to release it except by just being here… hoping that Paul van Setan wouldn’t realize she was the person he had cause to hate.
What would she do with the hate if she suddenly found herself at the mercy of it, deadly in Paul’s blind eyes. Sang harimau, the natives called him–king tiger.
She remembered his question: “Does the word vengeance really appall you, Miss Lakeside?”The Passionate Sinner by Violet Winspear