The Indifferent Earl by Blair Bancroft
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20825-0
****
Welcome a new author to the ranks of Regency romance. Blair Bancroft is very welcome indeed. The Indifferent Earl, her first book, should delight Regency fans, combining as it does a fine romance, a clever plot, and a sure handling of the details of Regency England.

Miss Abigail Todd of Boston has come to England because of a bequest from a hitherto unknown relative. Miss Clarissa Bivens has left her Arbor Cottage in Somerset with a few minor provisions. She must live in the cottage for two months and she must complete a number of small tasks while there. Abigail’s father claims to have no idea whom this Miss Bivens may be and encourages her to decline. But Abigail decides she needs a change from running her successful school for young ladies. She will go to England. What she finds surprises her.

Arbor Cottage is the first surprise. No rustic house, it is rather a large and elegantly appointed residence. The second comes when she is escorted to Clarissa’s bedroom. There is a portrait of her benefactor, but what a portrait! In full life and living color is a painting of Clarissa Dupre, toast of the London demimonde, wearing nothing but a sultry smile. What is even more shocking is that the woman in the portrait looks just like Abigail. Clarissa Bivens was no distant relative; she was Abigail’s grandmother.

Abigail’s next surprise is a letter from her grandmother, welcoming her to Arbor Cottage and insisting that, as she fulfills the tasks to insure her inheritance, she depend on the help and support of her neighbor, Jared Verney, Earl of Langley. Clarissa also suggests that she consider the earl as a potential husband.

The earl presents himself at Arbor Cottage the day after Abigail arrives. As executor of Clarissa’s will and as a friend of the lady, he has agreed to help her granddaughter with her commissions. He has an additional connection to the infamous Clarissa Dupre. For forty years, she had been his grandfather’s mistress. He is stunned to discover that Abigail is her grandmother’s exact likeness.

The first meeting between Abigail and Jared does not bode well for their future relationship. She is an American who is not much impressed with titles or Englishmen. After all, the two countries had just ended their second war in two generations. Jared is not accustomed to meeting women who are unimpressed by his person or his title. After all, he won the title “the indifferent earl” by ignoring the lures of marriage minded misses him for years.

As Abigail and Jared travel about to complete the sometimes inexplicable commissions that Clarissa laid upon them, their original opinions of the other change but the barriers to their relationship are high. Abigail has the life she created for herself after her fiancé died. Moreover, how will society respond should the earl wed the American granddaughter of a famous courtesan who was his grandfather’s mistress?

Bancroft charts the growing romance between Abigail and Jared with a sure hand. They become friendly, then friends, then something more. The author also clearly shows why the two are attracted to each other. Jared is no dilettante aristocrat, but rather a hardworking landowner, working hard to restore the family fortune dissipated by his grandfather. At 35, he is uninterested in the young ladies his mother insists on parading in front of him. Abigail, at 28, is mature, intelligent, independent and undoubtedly lovely.

I enjoyed how Bancroft used Clarissa’s commissions to further both the plot and the romance. As Abigail travels to deliver the letters her grandmother left, she learns more about Clarissa. She comes to admire the woman. I particularly enjoyed the “treasure hunt” at the end.

The Indifferent Earl is well paced; the characters- both main and secondary - are well drawn; the setting is well done. I recommend the book without reservation and am delighted to add Blair Bancroft to my list of auto-buy Regency authors.

--Jean Mason


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