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The Magnificent Marquess
by Gail Eastwood
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19532-9
****
The Magnificent Marquess has one of the most enjoyable plot lines I've read recently. Try this:

Reinhart Maycott, Lord Milbourne, is back in London after years living in India. He hates it. Were it not for the fact that some relative died and he got stuck with the title, he wouldn't be here at all. The matchmaking efforts of avaricious mamas with one eye on his fortune make life even more excruciating. Ren takes some satisfaction that he is going to re-do the London house and change it from a study in overdone gilt to a house reflecting his Eastern tastes.

We first meet Ren as he is suffering through an interminable dinner at the home of William Parbury, an old school chum. William has five sisters and a grasping mother who intends to help her beautiful daughter Aurora snare this eligible lord. Ren regales the family with tales of India and their eyes soon glaze over in boredom. All except for Mariah, the sister with the smarts and a hunger to hear of places she's only dreamed about.

Mariah is fascinated by Ren's adventures and wishes to know more about life in exotic India. Unfortunately, her mother is determined that it will be Aurora who gets taken to call on Lord Milbourne. Mariah must rely on deception and the assistance of her friend Henrietta to meet again with Ren. Since she's the quiet bluestocking, and since most of her family rarely bothers with what she's up to, it's relatively easy for Mariah to fabricate a meeting. This only whets her curiosity more. When she meets a little chimney sweep named Taylor, Mariah hatches a plan to sneak into Ren's house and see for herself all of his fabulous Indian treasures.

Normally this sort of escapade would have me groaning. But the author takes pains to make it plausible, first by having Mariah disguise herself as a maid and then by showing how easily a small boy could have gained entrance to a London house. By the time Mariah climbs a tree, dressed in boy's clothing, and crawls through a window, I didn't have the slightest doubt she could have pulled it off. She uses her head. Even after getting caught, Mariah thinks her way out of the situation.

Ren's character was equally well-crafted. He's sworn never to marry after seeing his family, his fiancée, and his subsequent lover all die in different ways. In fact, he's still being plagued by small thefts and unexplained occurrences. Yet he enjoys Mariah more than any woman he's known. Her intelligence and curiosity match his hunger for the unconventional and his desire to live life outside the confines of London. Ah, there it is… a Regency about two people who want to get out of the Regency. Who could resist?

I admit there were a couple of plot elements I didn't buy. One was Ren's pet cheetah, a full-grown female he'd raised from a cub and brought from India. Descriptions of "racing it in the park against his horse" seemed ludicrous. Also the idea of keeping it confined to a couple of rooms in a house. Cheetahs don't sheathe their claws, and it seemed that a hundred-pound wildcat could make a heck of a mess just by virtue of their bodily functions. And descriptions of Ren in full robes, playing a sitar, seemed posed. The descriptions of the house itself were adequate.

In fact, this book has one of the best "party scenes" I've read, at least in terms of descriptive surroundings. I really could draw a mental picture with no trouble, and it was lush, indeed. I swear I smelled incense.

And the mystery kept me guessing.

So, for an enchanting story of two misfits who find each other, you can't do much better than The Magnificent Marquess. This one's pure enjoyment.

--Cathy Sova


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