Tag: ley

Review: The Guinea Stamp by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1961)

Posted September 16, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I’ve enjoyed a number of Alice Chetwynd Ley’s other books, but this one just didn’t work for me. Too many concealed identities, too rushed a romance and a frankly unbelievable ending. Actually, the whole book is just one implausibility after another.

Here’s the premise: Joanna Feniton’s parents are dead, so she lives with her grandparents, and at the story’s opening, they are visiting Joanna’s friend Kitty. Joanna is writing a letter one evening alone in a room, when she hears a suspicious noise outside. Instead of doing the sensible thing and ringing for a couple of hefty footmen to deal with the problem, she throws open the french doors and goes outside, where she meets a very suspicious man indeed. Again, instead of summoning help, she invites him into the house to hear his story. Then, when she discovers he is injured, and he tells her that he can’t actually explain what he’s doing, she calmly binds his injured arm, hides him when someone comes looking for her and then doesn’t mention his presence after he’s gone. She even gets up early to wash away the blood from the carpet. And all she knows of him is his (probably fake) name, Captain Jackson.

Now, I’m usually quite prepared to give any book its basic premise, however unlikely, but this one pushed me a little too far. I get that Joanna is intrepid and courageous, and all the rest of it, but there’s a difference between intrepid and foolhardy, and she’s frankly a little too much on the foolhardy side. There are several other occasions when she decides to do something herself instead of sensibly leaving it to those better able to tackle it, and gets herself into all sorts of hot water because of it. Combine that with her propensity to trust anyone with a glib story, or even no story at all, and she’s getting perilously close to too stupid to live territory.

Another big problem with this book is that there are far too many characters who have important roles but aren’t given names, only numbers or the shadowy title ‘my lord’. Again, I get what the author is trying to do, and I suppose if I’d been paying more attention (or had been taking notes, perhaps) I’d have worked out everyone’s identities eventually. As it was, I was left completely confused, and the last few chapters threw me completely. At one point, Captain Jackson is bopped on the head by the bad guys and held captive. Then he seems to have been arrested and imprisoned by the good guys. And then he’s on a ship helping the good guys defeat the bad guys. Was this all the same Captain Jackson? Maybe I missed the connecting story that explained all these disparate sightings.

And then there’s the big reveal of who Captain Jackson really is. All I can say about that is — no. Just no. I don’t believe for one single minute that she could not know that, and no, telling us that she always met Jackson in poor light and therefore didn’t recognise him elsewhere just doesn’t cut it. So that’s a huge fail.

On the plus side, the writing is beautiful, as always with this author, and nothing struck me as inauthentic. There were some nice side characters. I especially liked Joanna’s grandfather, who would have lived in his library if he could and was only half attending to anything else outside his books (a position with which I have total sympathy). The side romance between Kitty and her betrothed was well drawn, too, and the main romance had its share of good moments, although I’m not keen on heroes who seize a kiss that wasn’t actually on offer. The whole smuggling/spying/adventure plot left me cold but that’s just me. I’m not a fan of that, especially when it takes up so much space that the romance is effectively squeezed out. I did guess the identity of the villain, so there’s that.

Other books by this author worked really well for me, but this one was a pretty spectacular fail in the credibility department, and I didn’t particularly take to either of the main characters. For anyone who enjoys this kind of spy story, however, it might work better. As it is, I can only give it two stars.


Review: A Regency Scandal by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1979)

Posted May 29, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a strange book. I’ve read other books by this author, and they were all light, fluffy affairs. This is a much more serious read, longer, wordier and darker generally. It also has an odd structure, where the first third of the book is essentially prologue, a long, rambling exposition of the backstory to the main part of the novel. It would be very easy to read the blurb and start reading and then wonder if you had the wrong book altogether. I know, because that’s exactly what I did.

The first part of the book deals with an earlier generation, with Viscount Shaldon, son and heir of the Earl of Alvington. Shaldon is a weak man, quite unable to stand up to his strong-minded father, and held financially captive by him. But he’s also quite unable to keep himself out of trouble. So when he’s attracted to a pretty, vapid and quite unsuitable girl who’s barely gentry, he thinks it would be a clever wheeze to marry her. That will show his father that he’s his own man! But somehow, he never quite summons the courage to tell his father what he’s done, and when his father pushes him towards a far more suitable match, to the daughter of a neighbour, Shaldon dithers about, putting off the moment when he absolutely has to offer for her, but also rapidly losing interest in his wife, now in the sickly throes of pregnancy.

But fortuitously the wife dies in childbirth, her mother, thoroughly disenchanted with her son-in-law, scarpers with the child, and Shaldon is able to pretend it never happened and offer for the neighbour’s daughter. She’s head over heels in love with him, so she accepts at once, and this should be a happy ending. But a weak man like Shaldon isn’t going to reform his character overnight, or possibly at all, so the marriage isn’t a happy one.

The main part of the book is set firmly in the Regency, and deals with the next generation. Shaldon is now the Earl of Alvington, and his son from his second marriage is now twenty-five. Various other offspring of characters from the first part are all reaching adulthood, the men sprigs of fashion on the town and enjoying their freedom, the women making their come-out in London, but with all the history from the previous generation as baggage. And history is repeating itself, for the current earl is bent on making a good match for his son with a neighbour’s daughter. But this Viscount Shaldon is not his father – he’s just as reluctant to be pushed into matrimony before he’s ready, but he’s not financially dependent on his father, having inherited an estate from a relative.

The earl is not willing to be gainsaid, however, and determines to thwart his supposed heir by finding his son from his first, secret marriage, disinheriting the son from the second marriage, and never mind what scandal may ensue. Such a nice man.

This is in essence the major plot of the second part of the book, but it’s woven through with the romantic entanglements of the younger generation. This part, taking place almost entirely in London during the season, is very much more like other Chetwynd Ley books, so don’t be put off by the protracted opening, keep going and it does conform more to expectations. I’m not going to say anything about the romances (yes, there are several) because none of them lit me on fire. I liked some of the characters, and the younger Viscount Shaldon is a far more honourable man than his father, but they all seemed a bit ordinary to me. The villains brought about their own downfall far too easily for my liking, and the resolution to the matter of the missing heir was all a bit of a damp squib in the end.

I did enjoy this, once it got going, and I applaud the author for stepping off the well-worn path and trying something a bit different. So many Regencies depend for their resonance on great secrets from the past, but this is the first book I can remember which has shown the whole of the backstory, not just a short prologue or little snippets here and there. I don’t think it’s totally successful, but it was still a solid four star read for me.


Review: A Conformable Wife by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1975)

Posted January 12, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A nice traditional read, and mostly set in Bath, which is always fun. Very redolent of Georgette Heyer, but that’s not at all a bad thing.

Here’s the premise: Julian Aldwyn is the heir to an earldom, and after a sudden illness in his father, he’s realised it’s time for him to marry and secure the succession. The trouble is, a disastrous and humiliating love affair before he was even of age has made him wary of women. He wants a restful marriage with the conformable wife of the title, based on compatibility not romantic foolishness. His sister suggests the perfect candidate – Henrietta (Hetty) Melville, very much on the shelf after devoting herself to her family, but very capable. So Julian gets to know her, and although she’s a terrible dowd, he sees enough in her to make her an offer – which she refuses, because she’s still hoping for a love match.

He’s piqued by her refusal, but she’s a bit put out, too, by his unemotional proposal. When an opportunity arises for her to go to Bath to stay with an old friend and have a bit of a girly good time, away she goes, happy to leave the annoying Mr Aldwyn behind. In Bath, she has the makeover so beloved of Regencies, emerging as a beautiful and fashionable woman, and attracting a whole host of admirers. So when Mr Aldwyn finally gets up the gumption to follow her to Bath, to see if maybe he can’t persuade her to change her mind, he finds the dull and dowdy spinster has become a social butterfly, amusing herself with flirtations with her many admirers.

I do dislike the idea that a woman has only to put on a pretty gown and have a new hairdo to become beautiful. Her face and figure haven’t changed, after all, and a plain woman can’t be made less plain by dressing differently, especially not in an era when make-up was little worn. And if a so-called hero *thinks* she’s become beautiful because of some new frocks, he doesn’t deserve her.

I won’t go into the details of all Hetty’s admirers. There were far too many characters in this book, by the time all her friends and relations are taken into account, and most of them were unnecessary and only served to make the book longer and more complicated than it needed to be. There’s a villain, needless to say, with whom Hetty behaves very stupidly and puts herself at obvious risk, and there’s a not-very-challenging mystery to resolve, and a happy ending for one of the minor characters, when an obstacle is rather predictably removed at the last minute.

Some reviews are quite hard on Hetty and Julian, but I rather liked both of them. They both had some baggage to dispose of before they could commit to marriage, she to spread her wings a little after so many years playing the dutiful daughter and sister, and he to realise that not all women are deceitful hussies and that it’s possible to fall in love twice. As for the romance, again, some reviews are negative, saying it comes out of nowhere. Well, it’s not a full-on angsty and over emotional affair, that’s true, but that wasn’t the norm for this era – it’s getting on for fifty years old, after all. But there are clues all the way through that both the protagonists are regretting their initial haste, he to rush to propose without trying to win her over, and she to reject him out of hand. In particular, their behaviour in Bath shows very clearly what’s going on – his obvious jealousy, and her determination to flirt and encourage the most unsuitable men equally suggest more going on beneath the surface. It’s perhaps more subtle than modern audiences are used to, but I liked watching out for these delicate little signs.

The writing is literate and the created Regency world is perfectly believable. It’s one of those books where it’s possible to sink into the story without fear of being jolted back to reality by an infelicitous phrase or a wandering anachronism. I enjoyed it very much, and only the excessive number of characters to keep track of made it sag a little in places. Four stars.


Review: The Tenant of Chesdene Manor by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1974)

Posted January 12, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

I loved this book. Yes, it’s old fashioned and short and ends abruptly, but none of that is a problem for me. I loved both the main characters, the villainy was unexpectedly believable and the plot just rolled along seamlessly, without a single jarring moment. I’m on something of a binge-read with this author. She’s no longer around so the catalogue is limited, but I’m delighted that her family is making them available again for those of us who appreciate the traditional Regency style.

Here’s the premise: Diana Chalfont and her mother have been left almost destitute after Diana’s father, Sir Peter Chalfont, gambled away most of his fortune. Only the estate remains, and the dilapidated manor house, Chesdene Manor. The ladies live in the more modern wing, still reasonably habitable, while the main part of the house slowly decays. The new owner, Sir Sidney Chalfont, is a distant cousin, since the only other male heir, Robert, was drowned on a voyage to India many years ago. He’s a gambler, too, and has no interest in the estate, allowing the ladies to stay on there, and even giving permission for them to find a tenant for the dilapidated part of the building.

Astonishingly, one day a stranger turns up wanting to rent it, and even sets about repairing it. Christopher Richmond is an odd, uncommunicative man, but Diana’s not inclined to turn away anyone who’ll pay rent. He goes up to London while the repairs are under way, and by the sort of strange coincidence with which Regencies are littered, Diana is also going there with a friend, and there is much riding in Hyde Park, a ball or two, and an outing to Richmond. No, this book is not exactly treading new ground, but it’s none the worse for that.

There really isn’t much more to say about this. The mystery of Mr Richmond was blindingly obvious from about page 3, Sir Sidney’s activities were easily understood, and there were two side romances which were uncomplicated and (frankly) rather forgettable. I was a bit puzzled by why there was no mention of the income from the Chesdene estate – there should have been tenant farmers and the like providing some income for Sir Sidney. I also wasn’t sure why he was awarded his baronetcy when there was still a remote possibility an heir with a better claim might yet turn up. The powers that be in these cases generally wait a long time before they pass over ‘missing’ heirs. He might have gained control of the estate, but certainly not the title. But it’s a trivial point.

I have to say that part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much is because of the two main characters. Mr Richmond is the strong, silent type, who’s also extremely competent in business, and even a little domineering (which was the norm for books of this age). He also has a rather quirky sense of humour, which I loved. I think he was meant to be slightly spooky in a sort of Gothic way, but Diana doesn’t see him that way, and neither did I. As for Diana, she works rather well for modern audiences, I think. She’s feisty and independent-minded, good at everything and kind to everyone – that makes her sound like a bit of a Mary Sue, but she has a lot of self-deprecating charm. As for Sir Sidney – yes, he’s a bit of a buffoon, but he’s foolish rather than wicked, and I like to think that he’ll reform and live a blameless life henceforth.

This is a short and sweet read, clearly influenced by Georgette Heyer but none the worse for that. A lovely, easy read with a pleasant hero and heroine. I’d have liked a bit more emphasis on the romance, but it’s typical of the era, so I won’t criticise it for that. Five stars.


Review: The Jewelled Snuff Box by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1959)

Posted January 12, 2023 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This book was first published in 1959, more than sixty years ago – a very different era. It’s wordy in places, there’s a fair amount of head-hopping (jumping from one character’s internal thoughts to another’s without a signal) and the plot veers between implausible and outright incredible, and yet I found it a whole heap of fun. I liked the two main characters, the difficulties between them were believable and the romance was low-key but rather sweet. For modern readers, it might be jarring but for anyone weaned on Georgette Heyer, this is a nice, light read.

Here’s the premise: Jane Spencer is travelling to London to take up a position as a companion after several years as a governess. Her stage coach is caught in snow, and the passengers are forced to walk up a hill to spare the horses. During the walk, Jane finds a man lying unconscious in a ditch, possibly set upon by highwaymen. Under his inert body, she finds a treasure the thieves missed – a valuable jewelled snuff box. The stage coach passengers and the injured man are forced to take shelter overnight at a small wayside inn, where Jane discovers that the man has lost his memory.

She looks after him, and they strike up an instant rapport. She rather fancies him, and he trusts her, so when the stagecoach sets off again, she takes him with her to London to meet her lawyer, who she hopes will help him find out who he is. But when she’s concluded her own business with the lawyer and goes to bring in the mysterious stranger, he’s disappeared. Jane’s very disappointed, and a closer look at the snuff box reveals a secret – a hidden letter, making an illicit assignation with a married woman. Now she’s seriously disappointed, and tries to set him out of her mind.

But there’s another shock when she takes up her new position – Celia, the countess she’s to work for, is a girl she knew at school as a bully and a thoroughly unpleasant person. She’s delighted to have the chance to make Jane’s life miserable all over again, and to make matters worse, her husband takes a creepily strong interest in Jane. And when Jane finally discovers the identity of her mystery man, not only has he forgotten her, but it’s Celia he’s been having an affair with…

Now, this is a fairly tangled situation, and it’s a short book, so not everything is resolved satisfactorily, to my mind. In particular, I’d like to know just how Celia’s comeuppance worked, legally. I don’t want to give too much away, but she was just air-brushed away in a page or two, and I’d have liked to know a bit more about it. I also wondered very much just why the earl married her, because he seemed like a sensible guy, much older than her and too smart and experienced to be taken in by Celia’s sickly-sweet public face. I just didn’t believe that he could be so much in love with her that he didn’t see what she was really like.

As I said at the beginning, there’s a lot of implausibility in the plot, particularly in the amnesia business. It’s a very common trope in the genre, and one I try to avoid as much as possible. I see the appeal in it, because what could be more delicious than a character who doesn’t know who he is? So much mystery to unravel, and so much tension – is he rich or poor, a grocer or a marquess? Although in this case, there’s an early discussion of our hero’s expensive clothes and shiny boots, so it’s obvious he’s a gentleman of means, at the very least. But it’s still hard to suspend disbelief. A simple bump on the head, everything’s forgotten, but later the memories will all come back and there’ll be no lasting ill effects. Nope, not believable. But I like to give a book it’s basic premise, however hard to swallow, so I went along with it, and then became thoroughly caught up in the plot.

The story is a bit uneven, and it became hard to remember sometimes just who knew what (or rather, who DIDN’T know what), but there’s one glorious scene in the middle between the earl, Celia, Jane, the hero and Celia’s maid, where everybody knows things are not what they seem, even though nobody quite knows everything, but they all just play along with the hastily improvising Celia as she tries to get them out of a huge mess. It could have been a deeply emotional moment, but the author basically plays it for laughs and it turns into the best part of the book.

As usual with Regencies of this era, the writing is literate and historically accurate, influenced very much by Georgette Heyer (although I rolled my eyes at every ‘pon rep!’). It’s not perfect, and it does require a shed-load of suspension of disbelief, and the ending is extremely abrupt (if you’re a fan of long, syrupy epilogues, this is not the book for you), but I really enjoyed it, quirks and all. Those implausibilities keep it to four stars.


Review: An Eligible Gentleman by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1983)

Posted April 7, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a meringue book – light, very digestible and sweet enough, but ultimately not meaty enough to be filling. I’m writing this a few days after finishing it and already I’m struggling to remember what I liked about it.

Here’s the premise: Frederick is that staple of Regency romances, the eligible but confirmed bachelor who has no wish at all to marry and settle down. His mother [*], however, has other ideas. She and her sister Ianthe, Lady Chalgrove, plan to marry Frederick to Ianthe’s daughter Phoebe (yes, a cousin marriage, so if this bothers you, best avoid this book). Lady Eversley is to bring Phoebe to London for the season, where she hopes cousinly feelings will blossom into something warmer. She persuades Frederick to accompany her to collect Phoebe. But Phoebe is in love with someone else and has no desire at all to marry Frederick, so her friend and local hoyden Eleanor Denham (Nell) sets about a cunning plan to make Frederick look like a bad match. Not understanding her motives, but knowing that her story is nonsense, Frederick takes Nell in great dislike. And when she, too, goes to London, the stage is set for a great deal of misunderstanding.

To be honest, this book made very little impression on me. Neither the events in London nor any romantic moments stayed with me, and I don’t feel inclined to reread to remind myself. However, it was very digestible, and I certainly enjoyed reading it, although I got a bit muddled with who was supposed to pair off with whom. A pleasant four star read.

[*] The lady actually died earlier in the series! This didn’t bother me in the slightest because I didn’t notice, but I saw it pointed out in a review and went off to check.


Review: A Season At Brighton by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1971)

Posted April 7, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

The third book in this series picks up another few years further on, and follows the rejected suitor from the previous book, Lord Pamyngton, and a new family, the Denhams, who have an abundance of daughters to be married off. Heroine Catherine (Katie) first meets Lord Pamyngton when she is in dire straits, having run away from home and fallen into the clutches of a none too respectable man. Lord Pamyngton rescues her, and discovers to his surprise that he himself is blamed for her predicament. Keeping his identity a secret to learn more of this situation, she confides in him and is later mortified to realise who he is, and that he practised such subterfuge on her.

So begins, rather awkwardly, their acquaintanceship, although I have to confess that it seems odd they never met before when they are close neighbours and the viscount even bears a family resemblance to his parents. But I’m always prepared to allow a book its initial premise, however unlikely, so let it pass.

The story then shifts to Brighton, where the married sister lives and where Lord Pamyngton has also gone, and once again Katie gets herself into scrapes of one sort or another, whether more from innocence or foolishness, it’s hard to say. I’m not a great fan of heroines who do incredibly stupid things (like running away and forgetting to take any money, for instance), and Katie is particularly stupid in that way. However, given the era in which it was written and the influence of Georgette Heyer, who loved to have her very young heroines scampering about the countryside, I suppose it works.

It’s fortunate that our hero, Lord Pamyngton, is sensible enough both to know his own mind and also to know Katie’s proclivity for getting into scrapes, so he helpfully keeps watch over her, enabling him to be on hand to rescue her with rather more plausibility than is usual in this kind of tale. The plot unravels in a fairly predictable and melodramatic way, but the writing is as amusing as ever and I enjoyed it all enough to give it four stars.


Review: The Toast of the Town by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1968)

Posted April 7, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Another pleasantly undemanding read, light-hearted and very much in the Regency romp style of Georgette Heyer. This follows on from The Clandestine Betrothal, and although it isn’t essential to have read the previous book, it does make it a little more enjoyable to have some understanding of the background.

Here’s the premise: it’s four years after Hugh Eversley married Susan Fyfield, and they’re in anticipation of their second child. Hugh’s lively sister, Georgiana, an old school friend of Susan’s, is now twenty-one, the eponymous toast of the town, and has already turned down six different suitors. She’s a restless spirit, and Susan is sure that all she needs is a husband and children to settle her down. Accordingly, she has filled their house with guests to try to get Georgiana successfully paired off. Among the eligibles are Lord Pamyngton, a gentlemanly but dull viscount, and Henry Curshawe, brother to George Eversley’s very boring betrothed.

Georgiana is bored by this dull house party. She doesn’t like any of the Curshawes, and doesn’t take Lord Pamyngton’s gentle pursuit of her seriously. But one day she decides to take out Hugh’s curricle and matched pair for a spin, and her high spirits get her into trouble, throwing her (literally!) into the path of perhaps the one man who’s unimpressed by the very beautiful Miss Eversley, Dr John Hume. He ticks her off soundly and when she retaliates in kind, the stage is set for each of them to deeply dislike the other. So much so, that when the youngest Eversley brother, Freddy, challenges Georgiana to make the doctor fall in love with her, she accepts at once.

After this, things hum along nicely, and I really enjoyed the banter between the two, plus Georgiana’s ingenious attempts to entrap the good doctor into a declaration. But of course things don’t quite go to plan, and Georgiana has to suffer a great deal before she begins to understand her own heart and reaches her happy ending. The other members of her family as well as her two suitors act as facilitators or obstacles along the way.

I did have a couple of grumbles. One is Georgiana’s brother George (and what sort of family has a George and a Georgiana, anyway?). George is betrothed to the World’s Dullest Girl ™ and seems to have a very cavalier attitude towards her, looking forward to the time when they’ll be married so that he doesn’t have to pay her much attention, for instance. I kept expecting him to see the light and realise that she was the WDG ™, but he never did. George was rather sweet in The Clandestine Betrothal, so it was a sad comedown for him.

The other grumble was the good doctor’s cousin, who’s perfectly qualified to be a doctor’s wife, is desperately in love with him, the whole family expects them to marry and he ends up chasing after the entirely unsuitable and above his station Miss Eversley. And poor Anne isn’t even given the sop of a secondary romance to heal her broken heart. There was a throwaway line about her being young and meeting someone else in the future, and that’s all the thought she gets. I was very sad on her behalf. Georgiana’s other suitor, the gentlemanly Lord Pamyngton, gets his moment of glory in the next book, so his broken heart will be mended.

All in all, an enjoyable read in the old-fashioned style. A solid four stars.


Review: A Clandestine Betrothal by Alice Chetwynd Ley (1967)

Posted April 7, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This was an unexpected delight. I’ve seen Alice Chetwynd Ley’s books bobbing around for a while now, but this is the first time I’ve read anything of hers. It’s a fairly slight story, but given its age (55!) it’s worn remarkably well. Ley’s writing career overlapped with that of the great Georgette Heyer, so it’s inevitable that her writing is heavily redolent of Heyer, but it’s none the worse for that.

Here’s the premise: Susan Fyfield is, at seventeen, finally leaving school. But what does her future hold? She’s an orphan, although a wealthy one, and dependent on her aunt’s kindness for a home. She knows very well what she would like her future to hold – one Hugh Eversley, dashing older brother of her best friend, Georgiana Eversley. She’s heard everything Georgiana can tell her of Hugh, and glimpsed him once or twice. She even stole away from school to see him when she heard he was to visit a house nearby, and was very embarrassed when she was discovered hiding in the shrubbery, whereupon he very kindly drove her back to the school.

But when Susan returns to her aunt’s home and finds out that her gloating cousin Cynthia is triumphantly betrothed, she takes a step too far – she tells them that she’s secretly betrothed. And when Hugh takes pity on her at his sister’s ball, and Susan gets a bit tipsy, she blurts out her most secret dream to her aunt – that her betrothed is in fact Hugh Eversley himself. The aunt doesn’t entirely believe her, but she feels she’s going to have to confront Mr Eversley herself to make sure of the truth, so Susan naturally feels she has to rush round to his lodgings to warn him. Whereupon he takes pity on her again and suggests going along with the secret betrothal for a while.

So far, so not very believable. He’s a leader of society, a notorious rake (aren’t they all?) and determined avoider of matrimony, and she’s a chit of a girl barely out of the schoolroom. To be honest, pretty much everything up to this point becomes a matter of conscious suspension of disbelief. Not so much Susan’s daydreams and childish impulsiveness, because she’s very immature, as young girls leading sheltered lives tended to be in those days, but that a man like Hugh Eversley would take any interest whatsoever in her defies credibility. And yet… despite the rakishness and society gloss, he’s actually a very nice man at heart, who sees Susan’s vulnerability and wants to spare her more pain. And of course, he’s only twenty-seven himself, so not exactly the jaded older man so beloved of Heyer. A ten year age gap isn’t at all unusual in the Regency, so it’s quite easy to believe that he’s attracted to her right from the start, while telling himself he’s just taking a brotherly interest in his sister’s friend.

From this point, anyway, the plots runs on swimmingly, with the discovery that Susan isn’t her aunt’s niece after all, but a foundling of some sort, and the story becomes largely about finding out just who she is and why she was handed over to her ‘aunt’ at all. Needless to say, it’s Hugh who beetles about trying to find answers and discovering along the way that he’s very much in love, without quite knowing what to do about it.

The author neatly sidesteps some of the hackneyed plot devices so beloved of Regency romances. So Susan runs away, but to a very safe harbour, and (apart from that brief visit to Hugh’s lodgings, which would have been quite beyond the pale) is never unchaperoned with Hugh. She even grows up visibly, which makes Hugh’s feelings even more credible. And Hugh? Ah, I do love me a sensible hero. I wasn’t much enamoured of his continued pursuit of the actress, and although this sort of comes right in the end, I would still have liked him to acknowledge the wrongness of loving one woman while chasing another, however platonic the chase might have been.

Like all Regencies of the era, it’s short on passion and long on mannerly restraint, but the writing is impeccable, the Regency atmosphere is faultless and the book is dripping with charm. I only knocked a star off for a degree of incredulity in the early chapters and that lack of passion. Four stars.