Review: In My Lady’s Chamber by Laura Matthews (Elizabeth Neff Walker) (1981)

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

I’ve read several Laura Matthews books, and I’ve enjoyed them all, something that’s not usual in authors of this era, where the catalogue tends to be spotty. But this was a perfectly judged blend of a second-chance romance with a happy family setting and a treasure hunt thrown in for good measure. There’s a half-hearted villain but his villainy never really amounts to much. This is just good old-fashioned fun, with some unusually good writing underneath.

Here’s the premise: Theodosia Tremere is the daughter of a clergyman, who almost married Viscount Steyne some years previously. Her father having died, she’s now taken up a position as governess to the charming Heythrop family, headed by Lady Eastwick. Her husband is abroad, so the family is headed by her eldest son, twenty-year-old Edward, who is finding his new responsibilities difficult. There are two younger brothers and three daughters, and all of them are delightful. It’s unusual and very refreshing to encounter a completely happy family in a Regency, and also one where the governess is not only treated with respect by the family, but has pupils who are lively but not mischievous. For the summer, Theodosia has a plan to get all the children out and about by instituting a search for the long-lost family treasure.

Into this pleasant setting comes the sort-of villain, Uncle James, who, having run through his own money and finding his debts rather pressing, is planning to marry a rich widow. As a way of convincing her that he’s serious, he invites the widow’s brother to view his estate, to prove that he’s not just a fortune hunter. As his estate adjoins the Heythrop family’s estate, and his own is run down, he and his guest stay with the Heythrops. And by happy coincidence, the guest happens to be Theodosia’s former suitor, Viscount Steyne.

Seasoned Regency readers will know the way the romance will go — a certain amount of initial hostility, followed by a gradual thawing and realisation that yes, they really can start again and make it stick this time. There were some wonderful conversations between the two, with real emotion roiling through them, especially in Steyne (I love it when the hero is the one doing the bulk of the agonising). In books of this age, the romance is often a bit staid, not to say downright perfunctory, but not so here. There’s enough angst here that it could have been dropped straight into a modern novel (and although I’m not in general a fan of too much angst, here I mean it as a compliment).

The treasure hunt (and the villainy) is just a lot of fun, and if the solution to the mystery was too easily found in the end, I can’t quite see how else it could have been done, so I won’t quibble. There are not so many Americanisms as in some of the author’s work (the inevitable gotten, and fall instead of autumn, but I didn’t notice anything else). My only big question-mark is over the amount of time the hero spent in the heroine’s bedroom, in some cases uninvited, and in one case refusing to leave. It was treated as a comedy interlude, so she nipped into the dressing room to put her nightie on and then climbed into bed, then punctured his vanity totally by falling asleep! Even so, it raised my eyebrows somewhat. I wondered whether this was the meaning of the title (which is singularly inappropriate otherwise).

But these minor grumbles aside, I really loved this book, loved both Steyne and Theodosia (whom he rather charmingly calls Doe) and can’t give it less than five stars.

 

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