Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-009298-X
Historical Romance, 2004
A flimsy suspense plot, a set of main characters that indulge in dull want-but-don’t-trust merry-go-round antics, and a heroine who often behaves in stereotypical and lamentably stupid ways all render Temptation of a Proper Governess more like a plate of dry oatmeal biscuits. None of Cathy Maxwell’s usually enjoyable way with words or even her sly self-awareness when she puts her own twist on Regency-era romance stereotypes are present here. It’s as if the author has become a parody of herself in this book. I can only hope that this is just a temporary off-day and she’ll get back to form soon.
Okay, this can become a little convoluted so I’ll try to use less run-on sentences to describe the plot. Ten years ago Michael Severson was accused of murdering his mistress, an actress named Aletta Calendri. Michael believes that the murderer is Henry Elswick, the son of the very man who tried aggressively to peg the murder on him. Now, ten years later, Michael is back from his exile to Canada to clear his name. Since he is now a wealthy man thanks to whatever it is that heroes always do when they exile themselves to the Colonies (do money grow on trees over there?), I don’t see why he feels this need to clear his name so badly. His first step is to infiltrate the Marquess of Elswick’s house party. Women throw themselves at Michael (again, tell me, why does he need to clear his name again?) but he is not to be distracted from his purpose.
Isabel Halloran is the governess of the unruly Elswick kids when she stumbles upon a plot. The eldest Elswick daughter, Lillian, plots to get herself married to Michael by sneaking into his bed and arranging for them to be discovered in a compromising situation. Isabel foils her plan but Lillian tries to regain an upper hand by “accidentally” leaving her bracelet behind in Michael’s bed. Isabel tries to retrieve the bracelet, is discovered by Michael who is taken with her beauty and steals a kiss, and whoops, they are compromised when Lillian’s parents stumble upon the ensuing cozy scene. Isabel is fired.
Michael offers his protection to Isabel. Thinking that he wants to make a dishonest woman out of her, she of course refuses. Have to love these virtuous women – they let the men play with them in the dark but the men want to reward them for the playtime, they raise the flag of impeccable virtue and we-shall-not’s. But when someone opens fire on Michael and Isabel has to take care of him, that’s when she softens. Nothing penetrates the Catholic guilt of these virtue heroines like a bloody wound or two. Break a bone and she’ll be begging him to deflower her. The fact that she spends time alone with him – nursing him but that’s not the point – makes her a really ruined woman so finally she consents to marry Michael. But that’s not the end of Isabel’s martyr-is-me woes. She is the illegitimate daughter of Elswick so she is always suspicious of Michael’s motives where she is concerned.
Isabel’s insistence that she can’t be worth much to Michael even when it becomes apparent that Michael has fallen for her can be a true test on my patience at too many times in this story. Michael is quite interesting, especially when he finally starts thawing. He comes to value Isabel as more than a tool for his revenge and when he experiences his epiphany, he stops being a driven vengeance-bent man and becomes a more compelling character to read about. But even then, Ms Maxwell spends more time skimming over their relationship, focusing on the suspense subplot that is just not good. It is especially not good when the author, instead of dropping red herrings and clues to intrigue the reader, has instead the villain wrapping up loose ends in a ridiculously long exposition-type rant during the denouement.
Since the external conflict is dull and takes too much from the characters to allow them to become full-fleshed characters, Temptation of a Proper Governess has a flimsy feel to the premise, set-up, and characters. Cathy Maxwell needs to do better than this, I’m afraid.