I’m a huge fan of Jan Jones, and I really wish she could find the wider audience she deserves for her literate and intelligent (and also emotionally very satisfying) stories. This is the seventh in her Newmarket series, and the third of the Furze House Irregulars, where the stars are the women from all walks of life who gather at a highly unusual establishment. The leading lights this time are bluestocking Lilith Fitzgilbert and antiquarian Edward (Ned) Makepeace.
The premise is a simple one: Ned is setting up a short course to help excavate an ancient ditch and wall on his estate near Newmarket, and Lilith inveigles her way into the gathering. It’s the perfect opportunity, for it also gets her out of town before a scandal breaks – she was caught out sneaking into a life drawing class (with a male model!) by dressing up as a man. Ned isn’t keen on the idea of a woman on the course, thinking she’ll be a hindrance, but is surprised by her at every turn. Not only is she genuinely interested in (and knowledgeable of) the subject, she’s a determinedly practical person who sets about reorganising his rather shambolic life in no time flat.
If there’s a complaint at all, it’s that Lilith is just a little too competent at everything. She’s a talented artist, she’s well educated and well read, she’s an efficient manager of a household and she’s also good in a crisis. Is there anything she isn’t good at? I can’t recall anything. Ned felt a little bit bland for a hero, which is to say I can’t remember anything outstanding about him. He somehow reverses into the romance by starting off thinking Lilith’s going to be a perfect nuisance and gradually coming to appreciate her. However, I far prefer this kind of slow-build romance.
As is usual with the author, the plot spirals into a complex web of shenanigans, all very dramatic, so that the romance is perforce pushed aside until the last moment, but it’s all very entertaining. Another delightful five star read.