The Society Catch

The Shocking Lord Standon
by Louise Allen
(Harlequin, $5.99, PG-13)  ISBN 0-373-29511-1
Here is a tale that is uneven but still acceptable. It is fun at times and not so at others.  The Shocking Lord Standon is part of a series, yet stands alone.

Jessica Gifford is a governess by necessity. Her parents are dead and when her mother died, her choice was to be a protected woman or seek employment. She watched her mother go from man to man after her father died and vowed she would never sink so low. So, becoming a governess was her future. She has come to London to meet a family and when getting off the stage, finds herself swindled into going with a man who ends up selling her to a brothel. 

Gareth Morant, Earl of Standon, is visiting a local brothel with two friends, who are much more invested in being there than he. In fact, he hoped to leave until he literally runs into a naked woman who asks his help. He smuggles her out of the brothel and takes her to his home. His plan is to palm her off on a good friend and help her find another governess job. 

But his friend, Maude, is the daughter of old family friends, the Panghournes. Her father is determined that they will marry, but neither Gareth nor Maude want that since they feel they are more like brother and sister than lovers. But Lord Panghourne will not be denied.

They come up with a scheme to dissuade him. Gareth will flaunt an affair with a scandalous woman and force Lord Pangbourne to find Maude another husband due to the scandal. Jessica is the designated paramour. The ruse is that she is a widow from Europe.  Jessica will pose as Francesca Carleton, looking for a new protector. The scandal will be done right in the sight of the ton, thus giving Maude an out.

There are some interesting sections to this story and yet, there are some ridiculous premises that the reader has to accept. Jessica is an uneven character. She vacillates between being a prim and proper miss who is offended, to a brave and alluring temptress that just doesn’t ring true. Gareth, too, goes from a bit of stuffed shirt to a man of high passions. He is at times fun and full of life and then acts like an ass when he offers Jessica a chance to be his mistress rather than acknowledge he may have deeper feelings for her.

I enjoyed parts of the tale and it was fun watching Gareth’s sister act as a matchmaker. Jessica blossomed as she participated in this bit of make-believe and it was fun to see her experience her first ball and her first ride in Hyde Park thru her fresh eyes. At the same time, there isn’t much action and their masquerade goes on a bit too long. It was hard to believe that she would be accepted in society. There is some sexual tension and yet, the familiarity with the plotline is one of the negatives. Jessica can only be a woman with Gareth because she loves him and wants memories, knowing they cannot have anything permanent. This was disappointing due to the lack of ingenuity. 

In the end, I found myself enjoying the story but not being overly enthusiastic about it.  Nor did it stay with me for long. After just a day, I had to do a lot of flipping in the book to remind myself what I liked and didn’t. That is never a good sign.

The Shocking Lord Standon was not very shocking. The story was simple and at times engaging, but often not, so I can only rate it Acceptable.   

--Shirley Lyons

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