Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-2551-6
Historical Romance, 2007
A Wicked Gentleman marks Jane Feather’s debut with Pocket and I can only wonder whether she followed her editor there from Bantam or she has a new editor now. This is because I don’t recall any of the author’s previous books filled with so many irritating point of view switches. The point of view can hop from one character in one paragraph to the next character in the next paragraph before hopping back to the original character in the following paragraph, for example, and this occurs so frequently throughout the story that I feel rather dizzy after a while.
Of course, this one won’t be a Jane Feather story if the hero doesn’t lie to the heroine right from the start, but it at least sees the hero deceiving the heroine for the Greater Good – yes, he’s a spy – so that’s not so bad compared to the heroes of the author’s last few books. Come to think of it, this is the “lightest” book by this author that I can think of since… oh, Valentine, if only because the hero isn’t a complete lying piece of dung in one way or the other.
Lady Cornelia Dagenham, a widow, wants to take her son for a trip to London. Because her finances are all tied up with her father-in-law who thinks that it is her lot in life to be quiet and take care of the house and kids like a robot, she’s unable to obtain enough funds to do so. Fortunately for all, her friend the spinster Livia Lacey has inherited a house in London. Cornelia and her friend Aurelia Farnham seize the perfect excuse to visit London – they will chaperon their spinster friend as Livia inspects the house she has recently inherited. They can pool their savings for the trip, especially since they don’t need to pay for lodging anymore, and Cornelia’s father-in-law has no good reason to veto such a trip now. London, here they come!
Unknown to the ladies, our spy hero Harry (obligatory romance hero title: Viscount Bonham) needs to gain access into that run-down property because a Very Important Item is stashed in there and he needs to get his hands on it before the bad guys do. He is annoyed that all his offers to purchase the house have been rebuffed by the new owner. Hence, when the three ladies and their kiddie entourage move in, he decides to meet them face to face in order to persuade them once more to sell him the house. Sparks fly between Harry and Cornelia in the process.
Normally I would find this a pleasant and enjoyable romance but I’m afraid I’m puzzled by a few fundamental aspects of the story to the point that I have a hard time getting into it as a result. For example, Harry offers a very good price for what is pretty much a rundown house. Livia has no money, from all accounts, so the house will turn out to be white elephant where she is concerned. However, Cornelia insists that Livia should not sell the house and I don’t know why. If Cornelia tells Livia to accept the offer but tell Harry that he can have the house once the ladies decide to return home to the country, I can understand that. But in this story, Cornelia insists that Livia do not sell the house at all and I don’t really understand why this is so.
Of course, if the ladies decide to accept Harry’s offer, then there is no story. But since when is “this happens in this manner because I need it to happen in such a manner so that I can have a full-length story to turn in to my editor” a good reason for anything?
And then there is this strange lack of urgency about the constant break-ins that happen in the house. Cornelia and Aurelia have brought their kids along to stay with them in the house, but they seem blithely nonchalant about the kids’ safety to the point that when Livia has to go get them a guard dog, she decides to get some cute tiny puppies instead. Harry has the house constantly on watch, but he seems unconcerned about the women’s safety. Come to think of it, he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to obtain this supposedly Very Important Item as well. What is going on here?
Because everything else about the story revolves around these two befuddling turn of events to the point that there will be no story otherwise, I can’t help feeling that something is way off. Because I don’t understand why Cornelia insists that Livia keep the house, Cornelia comes off like a bossy shrew who doesn’t care if her own personal comforts come at the expense of a friend who could use the money Harry is offering. Because Harry doesn’t show much initiative to obtain the Very Important Item apart from trying to persuade the ladies to sell him the house, he comes off like an inept spy. What, is he too honorable to don some ninja costume and break into the house to steal the item?
On a fundamental level, A Wicked Gentleman doesn’t make much sense to me. As a result, I just can’t get into the story, much less enjoy it. Harry doesn’t make to want me vomit blood like some of the author’s heroes in the past and perhaps that is the one bright spot about this book, but eh, that’s not much of a consolation where I am concerned.
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