Beauty Like the Night

My False Heart

A Woman of Virtue

A Woman Scorned

 
No True Gentleman by Liz Carlyle
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-3784-5
*****
In my review of Liz Carlyle’s A Woman of Virtue, I predicted that a secondary character in that book, police constable Max De Rohan, was likely to be the hero of a future book. I must have more psychic ability than I’d suspected - or it was a really sure thing - because with No True Gentleman Ms. Carlyle has elevated Max de Rohan to hero status. What’s most satisfying about his story is that the heroine is a strong, decisive woman, one who is a good match for him. It takes him a long time to realize it, but he isn’t the first romantic hero to try to resist the inevitable.

Max de Rohan has been assigned to the Home Office to root out corruption. It is while he is on surveillance in Hyde Park that he first spies Lady Catherine Wodeway. He cautions her against riding alone in the park so early in the morning. On successive mornings he comes to anticipate her appearances.

Lady Catherine is a widow who has come to London at her aunts’ request, unsure of whether she wants to be part of society. She finds her occasional glimpse of de Rohan intriguing. One morning he kisses her to shield her from the men he’s watching, a kiss that thrills them both. When they speak, she suggests they have dinner together. Max jumps to a highly improper conclusion and responds with a crude remark. Lady Catherine retorts, “Take that fancy stick of yours and go bugger yourself with it.” (Way to go, Lady Catherine!)

Max receives a letter from Lady Delacourt (from A Woman of Virtue) entreating him to come immediately to her brother Lord Sands’s house. Her sister-in-law has been found murdered in her bed. Lady Sands had been scandalously unfaithful, and it seems likely that one of her many lovers was the culprit. Max agrees to undertake the investigation rather than leaving it to Bow Street.

His inquiries bring him again into contact with Lady Catherine. Against his judgment, he allows his attraction for her to bring them into a closer association. He believes that she is far above him socially and that his career does not leave room for wife and family. His father’s devotion to his convictions led to tragedy, and Max is resolved not to repeat the past. In addition to this conflict, Catherine’s younger brother has become one of the murder suspects. He doesn’t want to want her, but he cannot resist. Catherine, who initially is only interested in a love affair, has no similar qualms. Whoever he is, regardless of his origins or status, he’s the man she wants.

Max’s Italian grandmother, Signora Castelli, the manager of the family wine import business, longs for Max to give her grandchildren. She is jubilant over Max’s attachment to Catherine, and Catherine is invited along with Max to dinner at Grandmother’s house. When Signora Castelli reads Catherine’s fortune in tarot cards, Max rebels against the pressure. But eventually the passion between them overwhelms his misgivings.

The murder investigation, however, will threaten more than their romance.

I’ve come to appreciate heroes in historical romances who do something other than attend society balls and drink brandy at their clubs. Max is my kind of hero - dedicated, principled, and passionate in his commitments. In an unnecessary plot twist, he turns out to be more than just your everyday laboring bloke, but it’s the unpolished working man pressured by his past and by his loyalties who is impressive. Each chapter begins with a quote from Lord Chesterfield’s 1776 treatise, The Fine Gentleman’s Etiquette, a book Max has received as a gift. He’s torn between the trying to become the gentleman he thinks Catherine deserves and the man he believes himself to be.

Fortunately, Catherine’s more realistic and blessed with some common sense. Catherine is the kind of level-headed, confident heroine we see far too rarely in romances. For the 1826 time period, she seems surprising deficient in class awareness, but there’s no question that she admires and desires Max as he is without reservations. She doesn’t intend to let his hesitance stand in her way. The more usual course in romance novels -hero overcomes heroine’s reluctance - is turned about as the self-assured Catherine wears down the doubting Max. The romance between the Max and Catherine is convincing. She’s good for him, he’s good for her, and what’s between them is good and hot.

There are a number of well-drawn minor characters in the story that add to the richness of the story, among them Max’s grandmother and Kemble, an enigmatic art dealer. A few characters from the author’s Beauty Like the Night and A Woman of Virtue have small roles in this book, but readers who are unfamiliar with those stories will not feel at a loss with this one. Due to the strong characterization, this is Ms. Carlyle’s best work since her five-heart debut book, My False Heart. If you haven’t tried one of her books before, this is a good place to start. If you’ve already discovered her, you won’t be disappointed by her newest.

--Lesley Dunlap


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