Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-257238-7
Historical Romance, 2017
A Study in Scoundrels follows Rules for a Rogue in Christy Carlyle’s Romancing the Rules series, but it can stand alone quite well as the author does the predictable packing off the now-married couple of the previous book to their honeymoon, leaving sister Sophia Ruthven to her own devices. There’s no plot carried over from the previous book, but Sophia already knows Jasper Grey from the previous story, so in a way the relationship is already “on” when the story begins.
In this one, Jasper’s angst is revealed in graphic detail: when he was a teenager, an escapade led to the death of his older, more responsible brother. Haunted by guilt and self loathing, all worsened by his inheritance of the somewhat ironic Lord Winship title from the dead bloke, he abandons his past to start a new life as an actor who only cares about his own pleasures. So that leaves him today as the tragic bloke who has shagged half the women in London while enjoying all kinds of fame and adulation – oh my god, what a tragic fellow, I really should commission a very small violin to play for him. It takes a special breed of author like Loretta Chase to convince me that womanizing and being an alcoholic are now traits of a tragic hero, especially when the hero in question isn’t exactly suffering that much, and I am not convinced that this author is of that breed yet. Still, this fellow’s angst is slightly more sympathetic than that of the dude in the previous story, who flailed around like a whiny crybaby all because his father didn’t hug him enough when he was a kid.
So, in this story, his feminist sister is MIA, and his family can’t notify the authorities because, you know, better dead and be found alive but ruined forever – that kind of thing. It is believed that she has probably run off with some rake, and hence, it is up to Jasper to look for Liddy, as he’s an expert on his fellow rakes. His path and Sophia’s cross because it’s a small world, and she eventually finds Liddy’s journal and he decides to persuade her to come along with him to look for his sister.
This one is a bit more of a road trip kind of story with the romance taking a slight backseat to the main characters going from one place to another. For a while, I wonder whether the author is trying to warn readers about what pains in the rear end that so-called feminist, independent heroines can be, as Liddy professes to be one of those women, and her actions only end up dragging everyone down to her level as they try to sort out her messes. Sophia is at first a complete 180 from Liddy – raised by her father to be the only sane and measured child among her siblings, she is currently enjoying her independence after her father’s death, while at the same time she is also looking for stability and order in her life. Therefore, she is going to be all sensible and reasonable, right?
Well, not quite, and that’s the biggest failing of this story. On one hand, I understand that the author’s deliberate intention here is have Sophia figure out what she really wants in life, and hence, it makes sense for our heroine to behave in a sometimes contradictory manner as the story progresses. However, there are quite a number of instances that don’t make much sense. A prime example is how, after being confronted with the consequences of another woman putting out to blokes before marriage under the delusion of true love, she decides to go ahead and puts out to Jasper anyway without extracting even a white lie about true love from him. Why does she do this, especially when she intends to keep searching for a man that she can have a very proper marriage with some time in the future. Does she expect that lucky man to overlook her sexual history, or is she going to fake it on the wedding bed? Sophia’s actions form an increasingly larger pile-up of inconsistencies and contradictions as I turn the pages.
Sadly, despite all her back and forth, she is still such a typical romance heroine in that she whines about people being concerned about superficial things like looks and not what’s inside. Easy for her to say, as she’s hot enough to act like looks aren’t everything, and she’s certainly superficial enough to put out to a guy whose character is supposedly anathema to her. It’s hard to be patient with this silly thing; it’s far easier to view her as a dumb dumb.
Jasper is a more coherent character – sure, he has angst, but I like how he doesn’t use his angst as an excuse to act like a jerk towards everyone else. His character arc is closely tied to Sophia’s, however, and because Sophia often keeps him hanging as she waffles back and forth, he is quite the flat character when he’s not pulling a Hardy boy on his sister’s trail.
At any rate, A Study in Scoundrels is well written enough to be better than a two-oogie read, but it’s nowhere near what I’d consider a four-oogie read. Three oogies should be a fair enough score for it.