Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-078412-1
Historical Romance, 2006
Gayle Callen doesn’t even bother to disguise the fact that The Duke in Disguise isn’t anything more than a patchwork of various overused historical romance clichés.
Meriel Shelby is the sister of the moron in The Lord Next Door. Despite the fact that her sister has married a nobleman, for some reason Meriel still has to become a governess and send money home to her poor mother who can’t function since Meriel’s father died. Perhaps her sister has decided that she now owes her husband more loyalty than her mother since her husband is her new daddy and therefore Meriel will have to find ways to pick up the slack.
Anyway, Meriel is naturally spunky, plucky, feisty, and what-not. The kid she cares for is naturally intelligent, sensitive, and hungry for love. The kid’s father… ah, well, now that’s where things get a little bit complicated. The actual Duke of Thanet is currently MIA due to some really outlandish reason that is perhaps best left to the author herself to explain in some upcoming Romantic Times convention. The Duke has been away for a few months when the Duke’s brother, Richard O’Neill shows up to take his place and come back home to figure out this plot against his brother and his nephew. He manages to pull off the disguise even if he’s hotter, smarter, cuter, and sexier than the MIA fellow. Why not? Such disguise works effectively well for Clark Kent.
Poor Richard has to behave like a jerk in order to pass himself off as his brother when he’s actually this nice fellow with lots and lots of money. He’s a nice guy. Meriel for the first half of the story manages to be pretty level-headed for the most part, but she becomes demented in the second half when she starts (a) wailing that Richard lied to her about his identity so clearly he cannot be trusted even if he’s doing all this just to help his nephew, because everything is supposed to be about her and (b) she is not good for him because her father killed himself and she blames herself for that, since she is the smart one and therefore she should have predicted his suicide. And, I don’t know, take the bullet meant for Daddy Dearest or something.
By the last page Meriel has become a stock brain-damaged and outright irritating imbecile who makes everything about her and grasp at straws to play the melodramatic martyr. Needless to say, I’m not amused.
The Duke in Disguise is just another mediocre example of the rut historical romance has fallen into. You may want to read this one, but there is a high chance that you have already read many stories like this one before. And most of the heroines in those stories are probably smarter than Meriel too.