George Hawkinville (Hawk) has returned from Waterloo and service with Wellington to his home in the small English village of Hawk in the Vale. He is struck by his unexpected deep love for the manor house. Conversation with his embittered father leaves him shaken: his father has mortgaged the house to the hilt so he can establish his right to the title of Lord Deveril. The holder of the mortgage is Slade, a businessman whose bad taste is reflected in the monstrosity of a house heís built on the town square.
Hawkís father intends to resume his family name (he changed his name to his wifeís family name when they married). He is uncaring that Slade will be seizing the manor house and farm when the loan is not repaid and angry that no fortune comes with the title. The late Lord Deveril had left his entire fortune to his fiancťe; it is being held in trust until she turns twenty-one.
His fatherís suggestion is that Hawk marry the ďpoxy chit.Ē
Although the will seems legitimate, Hawk readily accepts his fatherís conviction that the heiress, Clarissa Greystone, must have done something underhanded. There is the additional factor that Deveril was murdered. Hawk comes to the conclusion that this is all highly suspicious and cannot be aboveboard; Clarissa clearly bears some culpability for both the murder and the fraudulent will. He is resolved to track down this villainess, establish her guilt, retrieve the stolen fortune, and save his home from Sladeís clutches.
Clarissa Greystone had been forced by her parents into a betrothal with the despicable Lord Deveril. She has remained at school even though at age 20 she is too old to be a student. When she escorts several younger girls to view a military parade, she encounters the handsome Major Hawkinville who saves them from a near-riot. Hawk is surprised by Clarissa: this is no designing femme fatale. She is rather plain, petite, and dressed unbecomingly. Nevertheless, he remains convinced that she was instrumental in Deverilís death and the writing of the will.
With the assistance of two of his childhood friends, who along with him were known as the Three Georges, and their wives, Hawk aggressively pursues Clarissa. He gradually learns the details of her betrothal to Lord Deveril but becomes even more convinced that she had some part in Deverilís murder. Her artlessness and lively personality begin to erode his determination to bring her to justice. He starts to think instead about regaining the fortune through marriage. The problem is that Clarissa is unaware he will eventually succeed to Lord Deverilís title.
The four-star recommendation Iíve given this book is a reflection of the really engaging heroine. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the hero. Yes, Hawkís another of those ubiquitous tortured heroes, but thatís not the reason Iím annoyed. What bothers me is that he jumps to the wholly unwarranted conclusion that the heroineís a hardened criminal who murdered a thoroughly despicable character then forged the will found in a locked drawer that left all his loot to her when it should have gone to his father who is himself pretty despicable. This is the basis for a whopping Big Misunderstanding.
Now letís evaluate this situation. Clarissaís a young woman whoís still residing at school for young ladies. Weíre not talking about an Amazon whoís spent years perfecting her criminal talents. And whatís his source of information? His father, whoís mortgaged his house to another thoroughly despicable character just so he can succeed to the murder victimís title and resume his family name and deeply resents that this ďscheming chitĒ is getting the money. Since Hawk has little respect for his father or his fatherís blind determination to obtain the Deveril title regardless of the consequences to his house or the tenants and is furious that his fatherís risked the home he loves so much, youíd expect that he might be a little less eager to swallow his fatherís charges hook, line, and sinker. But, no, the heiress has got to be the conniving harpy his father has portrayed. Even after he meets Clarissa and has ample opportunity to reevaluate his opinion, heís still stuck in this stubborn mind-set. I want my heroes to be a little clearer in their thinking processes than this.
Obviously, the author has created this situation in order to create conflict, but it reflects badly on her hero. He starts to come across as bullheaded and vindictive - not two traits that are commonly associated with a hero.
I am recommending The Devilís Heiress because itís a well written story with a charming heroine, but I want to caution readers who are unfamiliar with the authorís celebrated Rogues series. This is not the best title for the uninitiated to begin. Although Hawk himself is not a member of the Company of Rogues, The Devilís Heiress is another installment in the series. Readers may find themselves lost if they have no familiarity with earlier books, particularly The Unwilling Bride, the novel introducing Clarissa and the late unlamented Lord Deveril. Furthermore, Hawk is the third of the three Georges whose stories are told in ďDemonís MistressĒ in the anthology In Praise of Younger Men and in The Dragonís Bride.
Jo Beverley is a highly successful romance author with an impressive list of titles, some of which are now being reprinted; readers who have read previous books in the series will consider this a must-read.