When I read Georgette Heyer’s works for the first time, many moons ago, this was very much my favourite. It’s always nerve-wracking returning to a much-loved book after a long time, but almost from the first page, I knew my memory had not let me down. This is surely the most scintillating dialogue Heyer ever wrote. Every meeting between hero Miles Calverleigh and heroine Abigail Wendover is delightful, and it’s hard to think of a single change which would improve the book. It’s quite perfect.
The premise: Abby returns to her Bath home aware that her niece, Fanny, has fallen violently in love with a plausible fortune-hunter, Stacy Calverleigh, under the auspices of Abby’s rather dippy older sister, Selina. Also returning home after twenty years in India is Stacy’s uncle, Miles, the black sheep of the title. Naturally this leads to the most delicious exchange of misunderstanding between Abby and Miles (’Are you Mr Calverleigh?’ ‘I’ve never been given any reason to suppose that I’m not!’), but eventually she works out which Mr C he is, and then begins the most glorious courtship of any of Heyer’s books. I’ve complained many times that the romance tends to be forgotten in the excitement of the adventures, but here the growing love between Miles and Abby is very much centre stage. And there is no prevarication: he makes his attraction clear right from the start, and she is almost as open.
In the background is the difficulty with the fortune-hunter, but luckily the object of his attentions, although fulfilling the standard Heyer role of beautiful but silly ingenue, is far less silly than usual, and there are no mad chases to recover an eloping couple or anything of that nature. I loved the means by which the obnoxious Stacy is dealt with, and I also loved Miles’ method of detaching Abby from her clinging relations, and finally getting her to the altar, as she herself wishes. Neatly done, and far more plausible than is often the case. I’m not a fan of the heroine who doesn’t know her own mind until the hero wraps her in his manly arms and kisses her thoroughly, and here Abby is perfectly well aware of what she wants. Five perfect stars.