Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29873-0
Historical Romance, 2016
Wiscombe Chase is the manor that caused a lot of problems for our hero Gerald “Gerry” Wiscombe and his wife Lillian. Seven years ago, Lily’s father arranged for her to marry Gerry, who had just inherited all the lovely stuff that caught her father’s eye. Gerry was supposed to die while fighting Napoleon, leaving her father and her brother free to use Wiscombe Chase as their base of operations to throw parties, invite the more gullible members of the Ton over, and work on swindling those people into making investments that would only benefit the two men.
Well, Gerry not only survives, but he also becomes a decorated war hero, and now, he’s back to exert some payback. He is also no longer that gullible twit from all those years. Not since barely a year after his marriage when his wife safely delivered a child… when he knows very well that the marriage was never consummated. Well, he’s back, and he wants his house back too.
The Secrets of Wiscombe Chase is not an easy read. For a very long time, Lily is a very exasperatingly passive and even ridiculous heroine, because she doesn’t do anything to try to improve the lot of herself and her son. She has seven years, and yet, she has no Plan B, no money stashed away, nothing. Her plan is simple: she believes – she has to believe – that Gerry is a noble man who will come home, take pity on her, and make everything right for her and her son. That’s it. Even Gerry points out that her plan is basically her wanting to be a martyr. Lily gets even more ridiculous when she tells herself how wrong she has been in assuming that he’d be a kind and faithful man. She had a child with another man, and she’s holding him to vows of fidelity? Her father and her brother basically screwed Gerry over, and she’s shocked that he’s not exactly in the most charitable mood? Can this woman be really that naïve without crossing over into mentally handicapped territory?
Still, the heroine grows a spine and finally tells off everyone, including the hero, very late in the story, so I suppose all that exasperating dingbattery from her is part of the author’s plan for Lily’s character development.
Because Lily spends a lot time acting like a damsel in distress flailing at life from her pedestal, Gerry has to be the proactive one. For a long time, he’s not too bad as the bloke who has to clean up the heroine’s mess. However, his issue is something that would make or break him where readers are concerned: he is determined to banish Stewart, Lily’s child, to a boarding school so that he does not have to even look at him again. He makes no secret, even to the poor boy that idolizes him, that he can’t stand that boy. This is even after he learns that the boy was the result of rape. There will be some readers who will give him the side-eye because he’s taking out his own daddy issues on an innocent young boy who has been nothing but well-behaved, and I won’t blame them. I personally wince at some of the things he says and does when it comes to that boy.
But I really wince when the author resolves this issue by using a played out and even clichéd plot development – the boy goes missing – because that particular development never allows the main characters, especially the hero, to come to a believable epiphany. That development encapsulates the issues with The Secrets of Wiscombe Chase in a nutshell: the fundamentals for a not-so-formulaic romance, with interesting and memorable characters facing difficult conflicts between them, are there, but far too often the execution smacks of the author taking short cuts to overcome these difficult conflicts. It’s a readable, well-written story, but it ends up being a bit less special than it could have been.