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Dauntry's Dilemma by Monique Ellis
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6182-X
There is much to like in Monique Ellis' new Regency romance, Dauntry's Dilemma. The hero is a gallant gentleman with a true sense of noblesse oblige. The heroine demonstrates courage in the face of adversity. The mysterious ghost who sets the story in motion is a spirit with a mission. The plot has real possibilities. However, there are also some things that keep me from recommending the book wholeheartedly.

Let's begin with the good stuff. Quintus Dauntry has been summoned home by his father to deal with a family emergency. A younger son, Quint served in the army until he was wounded at Salamanca. Then, his father forced him to sell out in order to insure the family line. But Quint has not been home in seven years, preferring to spend his time with his friends, "North's Irregulars." As he draws closer to home, he is troubled by the appearance of neglect that pervades the family estate.

Quint arrives at Combermere to discover his father, Viscount Dauntry, alone in the house. There are charms and bibles and crucifixes all over the place. It turns out that Quint has been called in because the family ghost has begun to haunt Combermere once again. The viscount wants his younger son to get rid of the ghost and places compete authority in Quint's hand.

The so-called "White Lady" has been haunting the Dauntry family since the eleventh century. Legend has it that she appears whenever the family fails to take care of the people dependent upon the estate. Quint soon discovers that there is good reason for her reappearance. His father and elder brother, in pursuit of self-gratification and glorification, have been neglecting their responsibilities most shamefully. Nowhere is this clearer than in their treatment of the parish church and its rector. Indeed, to finance their extravagant redecoration of the family mansion, the viscount had cut the clergyman's stipend in half and confiscated much of the furniture from the rectory. The family has also failed to meet its responsibility of taking care of the poor of the parish.

Quint begins set matters right immediately. He cancels his mother's plans to redecorate the house and enlarge the ballroom, and uses the funds to repair the church and the rectory. Restoring the latter seems especially important to Quint because he is immediately charmed by the rector's nephew and falls instantly in love with his widowed sister.

There is a mystery about Cecelia Walters. As Quint befriends her nine-year-old son, he discovers that once upon a time, before his father died, Tommy and his mother lived in a lovely big house and his mother didn't have to do all the housework herself. Quint wonders what has reduced Mrs. Walters to the position of dependence on her financially strapped brother.

When some of his friends arrive to investigate the spectral presence that brought Quint back to Combermere, they seek to uncover Mrs. Walters' past and he begins to suspect that she has been most unfairly treated. And he determines to redress the wrong done to the lovely widow.

As you can see, Dauntry's Dilemma has an interesting storyline. But there are a number of factors that detract from the book's success as a Regency romance. The complex plot allows Ellis to show us "North's Irregulars" in action, but it also limits the amount of interaction between our hero and heroine. I must admit that I found the four chapters detailing the adventures of Quint and his coconspirators just a little bit overdone and tedious.

Likewise, even in the part of the book set in Combermere, Quint actually seems to interact more with young Tommy Walters than he does with Tommy's mother. Granted, Tommy is a charming young man and the Quint's kindly and sympathetic dealings with the fatherless boy make him an even more sympathetic hero. But the fact is that Tommy is a more compelling character than Cecelia, which lessens the impact of the love story.

Finally, Quint's diffidence seems overdrawn. He is not really nearly so ineligible as he seems to believe and his refusal to take the steps that would have made his marriage to the woman he loves possible came to seem less noble and more foolish.

Obviously, Dauntry's Dilemma is part of a projected series of books about the members of "North's Irregulars." Ellis does a good job of providing enough backstory to permit the reader to understand the dynamics of the group without overwhelming those who have not read An Uncommon Governess, the fist book in the series. In fact, she does a good job of making me want to find and read the first book.

Ellis includes a nice secondary romance between the rector and the squire's daughter. Her portrait of a human and humane clergyman is very well drawn. She also provides a nice cast of secondary characters, the servants and local people who appreciate Quint's stellar qualities. And the final unmasking of the identity of the ghost is very clever.

As I said at the outset, there is much to like about Dauntry's Dilemma.

--Jean Mason

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