The Fortune Hunter by Diane Farr
(Signet, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-20565-0
Sometimes in the course of writing a story, an author creates a secondary character who simply shouts, “Give me my own book!” Such was George Carstairs, Lord Rival, the semi-villain of Diane Farr’s Regency romance, Falling for Chloe. His pursuit of Chloe’s married friend had led Farr’s heroine to try to attach him herself, with all sorts of interesting results, the one being that the hero, a long time friend, realized that he loved Chloe. But while I think that most readers - myself included - believed that Chloe had made a wise choice in not falling for Lord Rival, I rather imagine that we all cast surreptitious longing glances at the handsome and charming rake.

The Fortune Hunter, Farr’s first Regency historical, is Lord Rival’s story and it’s a good one. The author has made the transition to the longer format with a sure hand and has created a heroine who is just right for our hero.

Lady Olivia Fairfax is an enigma to society. The daughter of an earl and a wealthy heiress, she has avoided society like the plague, living in unfashionable Chelsea and devoting her time to the orphanage she founded with her mother’s fortune. She hasn’t been to a society function since her mother’s death cut short her first season some eight or nine years earlier. While she doesn’t control the principle of the fortune left to her by her father - that’s in the hands of the family solicitor, Mr. Culpepper - she does control the income. And she has no desire to enter the state of matrimony, an opinion that is only strengthened when her poor sister-in-law arrives on her doorstep, in flight from her abusive husband.

One day, Olivia goes to the house of a recently deceased friend of her mother’s who has left the contents to her orphanage. Dressed as she is in her oldest clothes, perhaps it is not surprising that a visitor mistakes her for a maid. The visitor is Lord Rival, come for his weekly cribbage game with the reclusive Mr. Beebe and unaware of his demise. Soon the two are engaged in a delightful war of wits and Lord Rival finds himself in the basement, helping this unusual woman sort through the contents of the wine cellar. To Olivia’s consternation, the two find themselves locked in.

As they wait for rescue, to his own surprise, Rival finds himself confessing that he had made friends with Mr. Beebe in hopes that he might thus make the acquaintance of the elusive Lady Olivia, since he has concluded that he must marry a fortune. Olivia in turn describes that lady as an ugly crone, just to put him in his place. The two escape their prison undetected and go their separate ways, but not before Rival steals a kiss. There is some regret on both their parts that they will not meet again. Rival found the young lady both lovely and interesting; Olivia found the fortune hunter charming and his kiss added some spice to her otherwise humdrum life.

But Olivia and Rival are destined to meet again, thanks to Mr. Beebe. He has left Rival a much need annuity, but with the condition that if his lordship is to receive the money, he must work with Olivia at the orphanage. Mr. Beebe is matchmaking from beyond the grave.

Olivia knows Rival for the fortune hunter he is, although she doesn’t know that he is not responsible for his impoverished state, nor does she know that his motives for seeking a rich wife are not wholly selfish. She does know that when she is with his lordship, her spirits rise and her life seems much more enjoyable. Since she is aware of Rival’s motives, she decides that it is safe to engage in a brief flirtation.

Rival had liked Olivia before he knew her true identity. He concludes that he might as well take advantage of this unexpected turn of events and try to win the heiress. He is quite confident that he can break down her defenses; after all his charm is legendary. That she will win his heart while he seeks to win hers is something he does not expect.

I remarked in a previous review of one of Farr’s books that she is more Heyeresque than most of the authors currently writing Regency-set romances. The Fortune Hunter convinces me even more emphatically that this is the case. This is a very witty book. The exchanges between Rival and Olivia sparkle. Rival, although clearly Farr’s own creation, reminds me of my favorite Heyer hero - Lord Damerel - the genre’s first reformed rake. I have adored Damerel for over forty years and Rival is as good a romance hero as he, which is saying a lot.

Olivia likewise has all the best qualities of a Heyer heroine. She is lovely, intelligent, brave, capable and, in their verbal sparring, gives as good as she gets.

However, Farr is not merely copying “the sainted Georgette.” She has written a historical romance that preserves the best of the tradition yet also should appeal to current romance readers. When TRR’s Cathy Sova reviewed Diane Farr’s first book, she remarked that this author “is destined to be Somebody.” Indeed, she is! The Fortune Hunter is a wonderfully enjoyable romance, one which I will happily place along side my complete set of Heyer’s books and one that I will read again.

--Jean Mason

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