Tag: dean

Review: Country Cousins by Dinah Dean (1986)

Posted October 24, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is the second book in the series, following after The Country Gentleman, and this is but a pale imitation of that one. It’s set in the same village, features several of the same characters and even the plot has many points of similarity, but it lacks the rural charm of the previous book, and the heroine is, frankly, irritatingly stupid. And despite all that, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Here’s the premise: Miss Caroline Barnes lives on the fringes of London. Her mother has moved down in the world by marrying Mr Barnes, who’s in trade, although clearly prosperous and well-respected. Caroline is perfectly content, but one day Mr Robert Hartwell arrives on the doorstep and reveals the existence of a family Caroline never knew. Caroline’s mother has a sister who married a widowed baron. Mr Hartwell is the son of the first marriage, but there were two daughters from the second marriage. Lord and Lady Hartwell and the younger daughter are currently in France, being held prisoner by the French, but the elder daughter, Julia, is staying at Mr Hartwell’s house, Canons Grange. She’s lonely, bored and a bit wilful – could Caroline, as her cousin, come to stay, and be company for Julia?

Of course she could, and there’s some fairly dull, oh-my-goodness-why-do-the-sheep-have-horns business from Caroline, who is painted as the ignorant city girl who’s not sure how to cope with the real world. Julia is exactly the spoilt, wilful girl her brother described, but her wilfulness mostly manifests itself in refusing to do anything or to go anywhere, exclaiming how bored she is, and quarrelling with her brother. Caroline slowly and rather cleverly, it has to be said, gets her out of doors and occupied again.

So far, so slightly predictable. But Mr Hartwell is the star of the show, for me. I never got a good sense of what he looked like as a person (maybe he was described, but I don’t remember it), and I don’t even know how old he is, but his personality is intriguing. It’s really hard to tell whether he’s being nasty to Julia, or whether it’s just a quirky manner, or maybe just sarcasm. Whatever it is, they snipe at each constantly, in a low-key sort of way. Maybe he just doesn’t know how to deal with her, or maybe he feels that being ascerbic will drag some sort of reaction from her. Or is he just exasperated with her? I can’t tell at all, which makes him very intriguing. He’s a little snippy with Caroline sometimes, too. Later, when he gets round to proposing to her, he’s shockingly abrupt, but she decides he’s just not had much practise in the romantic arts, and I think I can go along with that. I have to say, it’s one of the most charming proposal scenes I’ve encountered.

And so to Caroline. She starts off well, a smart, sensible lady who stands up for herself, argues her points with spirit and is well on the way to being a thoroughly admirable heroine. And then things start going bump in the night and she starts creeping about the house in her nightgown and tripping over things and getting caught, and in a different sort of book she’d be dead by the halfway point. I know authors are very fond of the whole gothic vibe, but really, it’s hard to do gothic without making the heroine totally someone you just want to slap some common sense into, frankly. As it is here. I counted at least three times that she set off into the darkness, barefoot and inadequately dressed, and that’s not intrepid, that’s stupid. Foolish, foolish Caroline.

However, despite all that and some repetition in the plot (French spies again? Really?) this was an enjoyable read, very well written and with a totally believable Regency. I found it a little slow to get going, but once underway, it rattled along. The similarity with the previous book and the so-irritating heroine keep this to four stars for me.


Review: The Cockermouth Mail by Dinah Dean (1982)

Posted June 12, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 3 Comments

I absolutely loved this book, every last word of it. It’s a very simple story, but our hero and heroine are lovely, there’s a strong backup cast and a wealth of local detail that I found fascinating.

Here’s the premise: Miss Dorcas Minster, the daughter of a disgraced baronet now employed as a governess, is on her way north to take up a new position. It doesn’t sound very appealing, but nothing else offered, and what else can she do? She takes the mail coach, along with a mixed bunch of other passengers. Chief among them is Sir Richard Severall, a colonel in the dragoons, now invalided out with a knee injury, travelling by mail because his own coach has broken down.

Needless to say, since it’s almost Christmas, there’s soon snow falling and before too long the coach is off the road, and everyone has to walk to the nearest inn. Sir Richard, with his bad leg, is too slow to keep up with the rest, and Dorcas stays with him, but gradually the treacherous conditions overcome their strength, and they’re forced to huddle together in the meagre shelter of a large boulder, while they await rescue. Barely conscious, Sir Richard kisses her, to her great shock. Happily, rescue arrives and they are carted off to the inn to be revived, and to meet a couple of other stranded travellers.

I have to say that the inn turns out to be astonishingly well provided with food for so remote a location, so the refugees spend Christmas in great comfort, and even manage to go to church. There’s a bit of a dance with the locals, and the kissing bough makes a timely appearance. This could have been rather dull in other hands, but the book is replete with detail, not just about the inn and the surrounding countryside, but the difficulties of travelling by mail coach over difficult and (in winter) treacherous roads. The author makes the Lake District sound like a foreign and rather hostile country, and the heroine’s rather plaintive longing to return to the south doesn’t seem at all misplaced.

All this being cooped up in an inn cut off from the outside world naturally throws the mail coach passengers together somewhat, and Dorcas, being the only female, finds herself the subject of a certain interest from some of the gentlemen. She’s in a curious position, being the daughter of a baronet by birth, but now a humble governess by trade, and so hard up that she has to borrow money from Sir Richard to pay her shot at the inn, and then there’s the lowering thought: what will he want in return? She can’t afford to assume it’s simple kindness, and since he has no dishonourable thoughts in his head, it doesn’t occur to him to reassure her on the point. And he is so self-effacing that when another passenger starts taking an interest in Dorcas, one he thinks is perhaps a better match for her, he does nothing to press his own suit.

With the romance bubbling along nicely, despite the question of honourable intentions, there’s another problem: there’s a highwayman on the loose somewhere, and one of their fellow passengers is a Bow Street Runner, sent to catch the miscreant. And it’s just possible that one of the passengers is the villain…

So everything boils up nicely to the inevitable conclusion, although with some fun twists that I didn’t see coming at all. Not that I was paying much attention, being so caught up in the gentle but very sweet romance between Dorcas and Sir Richard that the rest was almost irrelevant. I liked very much that Sir Richard’s bad knee was a serious problem that brought him real grief occasionally, and wasn’t just a slight limp that got mentioned three times and then forgotten. I liked, too, the delicate way that Sir Richard tried to show his growing feelings for Dorcas, but without making her feel uncomfortable — although sometimes his enthusiasm got the better of him! Of the side characters, I liked Mr Tupper, the pedantic solicitor who plays a starring a role in the romance eventually, and also Jem, Sir Richard’s mouthy batman from his army days, who spoke his mind in the most colourful language (fortunately most incomprehensibly) yet was fiercely loyal to his quiet master. There is a lot of Heyer-esque cant in this, and local dialect, only some of which is translated, so you have been warned.

A lovely, lovely story, with wonderful low-key characters that it would surely be impossible to dislike. Every word was a joy to read – yes, even the cant! And for those who like that sort of thing, there’s a heart-warming epilogue, too. Five stars, and I’d give it more if I could.


Review: The Country Gentleman by Dinah Dean (1986)

Posted April 27, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

This is another author who published Regencies back in the day, now being republished in ebook form with new covers. I’ve not encountered this author before, but I absolutely adored this book. It has a charming rural setting, a mysterious (but not too threatening) hero, a downtrodden and thoroughly deserving heroine, and a romance that builds slowly over the course of the book. And no pesky anachronisms (that I spotted).

Here’s the premise: Miss Lucinda Calvert is the daughter of her somewhat disorganised and short-sighted rector father and her ailing mother, leaving her the mainstay of the village, constantly busy about her charitable works for the poor. There are few people her own age in the village, apart from one female friend, the curate and a French emigre, so she looks set to drift into spinsterhood. But the arrival of mysterious Mr John Harris at the long neglected estate of the Pinnacles sets her life on a different course. John is charmingly attractive, and soon shows that he enjoys her company, but he’s oddly reserved about his past. He’s been abroad, but where? And when? And more to the point, why? Questions are gently deflected, but Lucinda soon discovers evidence that he’s not all he seems. Yet he’s so attractive…

The romance is lovely, and quite unusual for the era it was written in, which more usually follows the Georgette Heyer policy of wrapping the romance up with a kiss on the final page. Here Lucinda very gradually find herself falling for the hero, and although we never get John’s point of view directly, it’s obvious that he’s following the same path, firstly paying equal attention to Lucinda’s friend and then over many chapters diverting his attention solely towards Lucinda. I loved the way this was done, and of course, Lucinda is very torn because she is aware of all John’s suspicious activities too, so there’s a little tension (but not very much, it had to be said, since the resolution of the mystery was blindingly obvious almost from the first moment).

There is a minor romance for Lucinda’s friend, too, although I was a bit shocked by the speedy, not to say perfunctory, way in which the last vestige of an obstacle was swept away. To be honest, it was hard to see why there was ever an obstacle at all.

But really, one of the great attractions of this book, for me, is in the wonderful depiction of village life. It’s all in the details, like the cats, and the milk turning in the hot weather, and the lyrical description of some of the walks Lucinda went on. And I loved that the sexton doubled up as coachman and even butler for the rector’s family when required.

The ending was a little too glib (didn’t John have to at least consult his father before proposing?), but I’m not going to complain because otherwise this book was well-nigh perfect. Highly recommended. Five stars.


Review: ‘A Place of Confinement’ by Anna Dean [Trad]

Posted October 30, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This series is a collection of little gems: beautifully written tales that never, ever impose modern sensibilities on the characters, and manage to combine Jane Austen’s wit and observational skills with the amateur sleuthing of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. The romance is subtle and clever, with the obstacles being intellectual and philosophical ones, rather than the usual tired old tropes. This is the fourth book of the series, and although the romance finally reaches a satisfactory conclusion here, I really, really hope there will be more to come about these delightful characters.

At the start of the book, Miss Dido Kent is in disgrace, having shown a reluctance to entertain a marriage offer from the local clergyman, a widowed gentleman with a pew and a half of children from his first marriage. At the age of thirty six, Dido is very much on the shelf, and with her family in some financial difficulties, her marriage would relieve them of the expense of housing, feeding and clothing her, and she should, of course, accept the offer gratefully. The reader knows, as her family do not, that she has another offer on the table, from the charming Mr William Lomax, but he has financial difficulties of his own paying off the debts of his son, and he also disapproves of Dido’s propensity to rush off furiously investigating every odd circumstance that turns up.

Dido has been sent off to act as companion to her wealthy Aunt Manners, which state may either make her appreciate the value of the clergyman’s attentions or perhaps induce Aunt Manners to leave her some money. But naturally Dido immediately falls into the middle of a mystery, which she feels obliged to attempt to unravel. For once, however, Mr Lomax encourages her to some extent, because his own son (he of the debts) is in the middle of the drama, and likely to hang for murder unless Dido can solve the mystery.

As with all these books, many of the seminal events, and Dido’s thoughts on them, are revealed in long, musing letters to her sister, Eliza. I did wonder how much poor Eliza would be obliged to pay for these huge missives, for the cost of letters was enormous in those days. Still, let that pass. My biggest criticism of these books has always been the number of times Dido just happens to bump into someone who reveals crucial information, or else she just happens to see something, or (even more unlikely) people just happen to show her things or tell her things or urge her to find out things. Which is very convenient for the plot, but a little implausible.

Not that any of that matters. I so seldom find a book these days that is nothing but a pure joy to read, but the Dido Kent books definitely fall into that category. Highly recommended. Five stars.


Review: ‘A Woman of Consequence’ by Anna Dean [Trad]

Posted October 30, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I loved the first two in this charming series where Miss Marple meets Jane Austen, and I gobbled this one up in just as much delight. The writing is pure pleasure, with a rich tapestry of historical detail woven effortlessly into the letters and thoughts of spinster Miss Dido Kent. There are few people who can capture the style of Jane Austen, and while some come close with language and settings, Anna Dean is the only author I’ve found who also has Austen-ite levels of wit.

In this book, Dido’s family has suffered some financial reverses, and the cottage she shares with her sister Eliza has been given up. Dido is now living under her brother’s roof, suffering the jibes of her unkind sister-in-law, required to live in a cold little attic room and generally treated as an unpaid servant. That doesn’t stop her from visiting the neighbours at Madderstone Abbey, and when a girl falls from the steps of the abbey ruins after apparently seeing a ghost, and then a body is found in the pond, Dido is asked to use her investigative skills to uncover the truth.

The ongoing slow-burn romance with Mr William Lomax inches a little further towards a resolution, although the two still have their quite forcible arguments about the propriety of what Dido is doing, and whether it’s proper for a well-bred lady to concern herself with murders and other goings-on. I enjoy the romance every bit as much as the murder mysteries in these books, but these differences of opinion are beginning to seem repetitive now.

The resolution of the mystery is both highly implausible and excessively convoluted, and a part of it involves a character who is barely introduced until about 80% of the way into the book, so that felt like a bit of a cheat. However, it all fitted together very nicely, so I’m not going to grumble too much. Besides, the book was such a joy to read that these complaints pale into insignificance. Another delightful five star read.


Review: ‘A Gentleman of Fortune’ by Anna Dean [Trad]

Posted September 5, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I adored the first book in this series (’A Moment of Silence’), which combines two of my great loves – the Regency era, and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple-style amateur sleuth. So this one was a no-brainer. It isn’t quite as successful as the first book, but it’s still a delightfully enjoyable read. The writing is authentically Austen-esque, the mystery is intriguing and the sleuthing rattles along at a merry pace.

In fact, it’s almost too fast a pace. Our amateur detective, Miss Dido Kent, has only to poke her nose out of doors for her to bump into someone with information to impart, or else she overhears something of vital import, or she calls on someone and they obligingly tell her exactly what she wants to know. All this become increasingly implausible, frankly.

One aspect which bothered me somewhat was the numerous similarities to Jane Austen’s Emma. I suppose it’s done as an affectionate homage, but every time we had a strawberry-picking party or the characters start making anagrams with double meanings, I was knocked out of this book and straight into another book. And there’s one parallel that actually gives away a plot element, which felt all kinds of wrong to me (although there’s a twist at the end which partially ameliorates the situation).

This is not a conventional Regency romance, but there is a romantic story simmering beneath the murder, which was begun in the first book, and continues swimmingly here. It leads, in fact, to some interesting (and spirited!) discussions between Miss Kent and her paramour, he feeling that she should be guided by him and give up this nasty sleuthing business, and leave everything to the constables, and she feeling that such submissive behaviour would rip out her very soul. And really, the root of the problem is the nature of marriage in such a patriarchal society as Regency England, where women were very much expected to submit and not worry their pretty little heads with… well, anything very much outside the domestic sphere. I enjoyed this element of the book very much.

Another excellent read, beautifully written, with the murder mystery and romance threads nicely balanced. Very enjoyable and highly recommended. Five stars.


Book review: ‘A Moment of Silence’ by Anna Dean [Trad]

Posted June 5, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I loved everything about this book. It combines two of my favourite genres, Jane Austen and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, in one glorious package, and how can anyone resist that? Dido Kent is a spinster, past the age of any likelihood of marriage, although not past the age of interest in gentlemen. But she’s no romantic heroine, that role being taken here by her niece. When the niece’s fiance disappears, she sends for her aunt to comfort her. But then there’s a murder…

Thereafter, this follows the usual pattern of all country house murder mysteries. Dido doesn’t so much interview suspects as engage in conversation with them. She also rather ingeniously befriends the servants and gains some valuable clues in that way. And she isn’t above a little bit of pretence to inveigle secrets from anyone she thinks may have information. However, even when she’s sleuthing away, she’s never less than a lady and never has to resort to the slightest impropriety of behaviour.

All this is quite delightful, and both the Regency and murder mystery elements work perfectly. The solution to the mystery is ingenious but convincing (the very best kind), and there’s even a perfectly judged happy ever after, although I did wonder just how the final arrangement was going to work out in the long term. But that’s a very minor quibble. An excellent five stars.