Review: Hidden in the Heart by Beth Andrews (2021) [Trad]

Posted May 26, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Well, that was unexpected. The title says it’s a sumptuous unputdownable Regency romance, all of which I would question, and none of which should be in the title, for heaven’s sake, the cover suggests it’s a fairly generic type of story, and actually it’s a funny, not to say frivolous, piece of whimsy which I enjoyed hugely, with a couple of reservations.

Here’s the premise: Lydia is the younger of two daughters in the impoverished Bramwell family. When Louisa, the air-headed beauty of the family, goes off to London to make her debut and snag a husband, preferably rich and titled, Lydia is sent to Aunt Camilla, who lives in the Sussex village of Diddlington, to rusticate for the duration. But her stay turns out to be anything but the peaceful and rather boring time she envisages, when a charred and battered corpse is found in the woods. Luckily, intrepid Lydia enlists the aid of innkeeper’s son John Savidge to track down the murderer, which leads to all sorts of unexpected complications…

So let me deal with the title first. The word ‘sumptuous’ implies to me something very rich and upper class and extravagant, and the characters in this story are all well below that sort of level of society. Most of them are not even gentry (Mr Bramwell is a solicitor, so what his daughter is doing being presented at court is a mystery). Unputdownable is fairly subjective, and as for Regency romance – well, it’s set in the Regency and there is a romance or two, but if anyone is looking for passion or even much emotion, better look elsewhere.

But once preconceived ideas are set aside (and the hype in the title is ignored) this is a really cute and funny story. Lydia is both intrepid and very practical, her new friend John Savidge is similar, Aunt Camilla and her French admirer are deliciously overwrought and melodramatic, and there are some fun side characters in the domineering Mrs Wardle-Penfield and the socially ambitious innkeeper, Mr Savidge. The murder plot rumbles along nicely, with some diversions and then an escalation, all of which our two main characters handle with aplomb.

The mystery is, frankly, blindingly obvious from a very early stage, even to me, and I’m usually the one astonished by the last-chapter revelations. But this one was too simple for words. The romance… well, it really wasn’t. Our couple kiss, more or less accidentally, and almost immediately start thinking about marriage, but in the most prosaic way possible. They are a nice couple, but the romance was very much a side issue in the story.

And that leads me directly to the reservations, the first of which is that this book is misbilled. It’s a Regency murder mystery, at the cozy end of the scale, and it’s misleading to pretend otherwise. A lot of Regencies have a mystery in them, but the romance is still centre stage, but not so here, and book 2 of the series features Lydia and John again, solving another murder. Anyone picking this up expecting a standard romance is going to be disappointed.

The second reservation is the names. The Bramwells randomly become Barnwells, and the Savidge family are also Savage and even Savings! And this happens multiple times throughout the book, once even using Savage and Savidge in the same paragraph. Maybe a lot of readers won’t notice, but I did and it drove me insane. Other than that, the editing was excellent, the writing was beautifully done, both very much in keeping with the era and also very funny – as in laugh out loud funny. There are some minor historical glitches (a baronet is not a peer, since he has no seat in the House of Lords), but nothing that bothered me as much as the names.

Overall, I loved this and it has a charm which is sadly lacking in most modern Regencies. The characters felt believably real, while also being entertainingly quirky, the hero and heroine were delightfully down-to-earth, and the murder mystery was interesting, if not the most difficult to solve. This would have been a clear five star read for me but for those pesky name errors, but I still recommend it wholeheartedly.

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