|Catherine Fenton is one of Regency London's wealthiest heiresses; Ben, Lord Hawksmoor is one its most notorious fortune hunters. One might think their perfect backgrounds make them a perfect match, but in fact their paths have never crossed until they both attend the public hanging of a murderer. Ben is present to pay his last honors to a fellow soldier and adventurer. Catherine is there because her father ordered her to attend. When Catherine gets lost in the agitated mob, Ben rescues her. Because hangings aren't exactly teaming with respectable young debutantes and because Catherine eventually leaves under the protection of the swarmy and unsavoury Lord Withers, Ben takes her for a courtesan.
Ben and Catherine meet again, and his little misunderstanding is milked for the first and, as far as I am concerned, better half of the book. Once Ben learns the truth, developments take a darker shade as Catherine must face one betrayal after another. She has never liked Withers, but she never suspected the depths to which her own family would descend. Her stepmother is an unhappy opium addict, prepared to do pretty much anything for a quick fix. Her own father is a little too eager for her to marry to the unpalatable Withers.
Catherine would rather marry for desire, which she finds with Ben. Sadly for her, even he doesn't deserve her admiration and love. At least, not until he acknowledges the importance of love.
The strength of the novel lies with its main characters and their development. Catherine is a debutante with a difference: she is the daughter of a merchant and the granddaughter of an adventurer. She knows she will never be completely accepted by the ton, but doesn't really mind because she has got her priorities straight. She may begin being romantic and even naïve, but this is in keeping with her youthful age. What's more, she quickly develops a backbone, going so far as to challenge Ben to a duel. Although I found this gesture a bit extravagant, it does make a rather charming point.
Unlike the majority of reformed scoundrels in romance novels, Ben rightly deserves his title: the lord of scandal. Well into the book he continues to behave in a less than honorable fashion. While unpleasant, his actions are justifiable in light of his background. More importantly, because his conversion is gradual, it is all the more convincing. When he finally does the right thing, it is easy to believe there will be no back-sliding.
Unfortunately, these strong characters don't have the support they deserve. A few too many secondary characters litter the second half of the book, and they don't add much to the story. The end has a bit of the melodramatic excesses of Victorian sensational fiction. In fact, smoother plotting throughout the book would have made it more convincing. That said, with tight writing and believable main characters, Lord of Scandal is a far more engaging book than most historicals on the market. It certainly deserves strong passing marks.