Review: A Fine Gentleman by Laura Matthews (1999)

Posted February 13, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Oh, I loved this book so much. A heroine with gumption and a sparky (ie not bland) character. The fairly conventional grumpy hero who melts relatively quickly. And things that go bump in the night. What’s not to like?

Here’s the premise: Impoverished distant relation Caroline Carruthers is invited to be a temporary companion to the widowed Lady Hartville. Her son, Lord Hartville, the grumpy hero, is very well aware that his mother wants him to marry Caroline, but he finds her too meek and insipid. Besides, he’s quite happy to be a bachelor. But then a child of about five years of age appears at the estate and calls him ‘papa’. He’s quite sure the child isn’t his, but Caroline seems determined to hold him to his supposed obligations. And then Caroline’s frivolous younger brother appears, together with his worldly and very attractive friend Markingham, and strange things start to happen.

Let’s deal with the ‘mystery’ first. The parentage of the child is the big mystery of the book, but the resolution really isn’t that difficult to guess. The problem with a book of this era is that the cast of characters is very limited, so there aren’t very many possible villains to choose from. I spotted the culprit within seconds, so it isn’t difficult. Nevertheless, the author milks the suspense for all it’s worth.

The romance is also never in doubt. There’s some lovely back-and-forth dialogue between hero and heroine, which isn’t frivolous enough to be called banter, but also isn’t intense enough to be unsettling. They are drawn to each other, not quite from the start, but certainly from around the midpoint of the book when the open hostility morphs into something else altogether. There are some lovely set-piece scenes (like the storm, for instance) which develop the relationship nicely. I was less enamoured of the line that she has a voluptuous body and a certain innate awareness of sexuality that serves to move things along. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the scenes where she is less than properly attired, and exposed to his appreciative eye. Yes, he’s a gentleman and the hero, but still, I would have preferred it if he’d shown more restraint at those times.

The resolution is both predictable and very satisfactory, and (unlike many books of this era) there’s a proper ending to the romance, too. There are a number of Americanisms which distressed me (gotten; wooden walkways outside village shop; ready-made dresses in village shop; straightaway (straight bit of road); cream in the tea; allergic (not used before 1908)). I also wondered greatly at the number of indigent relations that Lord Hartville is supporting (I think the number thirty-two was mentioned at one point). If he was giving each of them the five hundred pounds mentioned for one pair, he’d be flat broke in five minutes. It’s far more usual to hand out fifty quid a time, and even that would mount up. Despite all that, I enjoyed the book enough to give it five stars.



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