Review: The Lady Next Door by Laura Matthews (1981)

Posted November 15, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

A glorious read, and the first book in a while that I couldn’t bear to put down. Sensible characters who know their own mind from the start, not one but three (and a bit) romances to enjoy, and a hero who (praise be!) isn’t browbeaten by his harridan of a mother, but deals with her absolutely firmly and immovably. I get so tired of noblemen who crumble at the first sign of disapproval from Mama, so bonus points for that. And not a misunderstanding or an elopement or a kidnapping in sight. Wonderful.

Here’s the premise: Marianne Findlay comes from a good family, but eight years ago her reputation was destroyed by the actions of the Countess of Latteridge. Now she’s struggling to make ends meet by taking in lodgers in the dilapidated York house she’s fortuitously inherited, with her grumpy spinster aunt for company. One of the lodgers has decided that he would like to marry her, owing to the rather fine house she now owns, and the other is busy trying not to blow up said house with his experiments, but Marianne can deal with them. Slowly, she’s finding her feet in society again, albeit at a much lower level than before, and Aunt Effie has hopes that a match can be made with nice Dr Thorne, who seems to enjoy Marianne’s company. But now there’s trouble brewing, for their York refuge happens to be next door to the Earl of Latteridge’s house, and the whole family, including his mother, is about to take up residence for the autumn and winter season.

Marianne can’t avoid the family entirely, and she soon finds that the earl’s younger brother, Harry, is an enthusiastic charming young man, enthralled by the creations of her inventor lodger. Even the earl, when he arrives, is a pleasant and sensible man, not at all the disapproving and haughty peer she’d expected. His sister, too, is lovely and quite unbothered by Marianne’s supposedly disreputable past. So things are humming along nicely, until the Countess of Latteridge discovers Marianne’s presence next door and sets about making her displeasure widely known.

There’s nothing terribly surprising about how the plot unravels, but the Earl of Latteridge is very much the perfect hero, who sees Marianne as his future wife almost from the start and sets about making it happen with single-minded determination, and won’t allow anything or anyone to get in his way, least of all his mother. The two have a couple of glorious scenes where he simply exerts his authority firmly and she has no choice but to surrender. Highly enjoyable! I love me a hero who does the right thing at once with no dithering. The rest of the assemblage of characters are perhaps a little too good-natured to be realistic, but it makes a change from the usual black-hearted villainy that seems to be a staple of Regencies. Marianne was perhaps a little bland for my taste, but it’s a small quibble. The romance is entertaining, especially as the earl finally wins his lady by overcoming her objections one by one – very cleverly done.

An unusual premise but a highly entertaining read, set in York for a change and actually set at some unspecified Georgian period, so not a Regency at all, but apart from a few details of dress and the lodger’s inventions, there’s not a great deal of difference. I’ve only read one other book by this author, The Nomad Harp, and I enjoyed that, too. I’ll have to look for more of the author’s books. Five stars.

 

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