The Actress and the
Marquis

Enchanting Kittens

Lord Sayer's Ghost

On the First Day of Christmas

The Reluctant Bride

The Wedding Ghost

 
The Missing Grooms by Cindy Holbrook
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6769-0
****
I always pick up Cindy Holbrook’s books with trepidation, but I almost always pick them up. This may seem paradoxical, but let me explain. The trepidation is based on the fact that I know that the novel will contain all sorts of niggling errors (and some whoppers as well; you should see what she does to the British justice system in this book.) But I almost invariably buy Holbrook’s Regencies because I know that I will have a rollicking good time, however improbable the plot. Nobody does slapstick humor better than Cindy Holbrook.

The plot of The Missing Grooms is pure Holbrook. The heroine, Lady Julia Wexton, is given an ultimatum by her father: either wed in six months or lose your fortune. Indeed, all that lovely money will go not to the earl’s daughter, but to his ward, Garth Tolton, Earl of Sanderson and Julia will be forced to apply to Garth for every pound and shilling.

Julia and Garth had grown up together and had been best friends. But they had grown apart when Garth was a young man-about-town and Julia was a debutante. Their once affectionate relations had turned to constant bickering as Julia attacked Garth’s rakish way of life and he responded in kind. The idea of being financially dependent on Garth catapults Julia into action. She vows to be betrothed within a week and married within a month. She promptly puts together a list of potential husbands.

Julia’s vow is not so far-fetched as it might seem. Although twenty-eight, Julia is beautiful, witty and very rich. So many men have tried and failed to win her hand that she is known as the “Citadel.” When Charles Danford, Marquess of Hambledon receives Julia’s summons and is informed that the two would suit very well, before he knows it, he is betrothed to the heiress.

However, Hambledon never arrives to make his formal appeal to her father or to sign the settlements. When it appears that the marquess has had second thoughts, Julia is undaunted. She turns to number two on her list, Lord Mancroft. But he too fails to make his formal request for her hand. Desperate circumstances call for desperate measures, so Julia proceeds to betroth herself informally to the next four candidates on her list. Surely one of them will show up for the carefully scheduled appointment with Lord Wexton. Unfortunately, they all turn up at the same time and then they too proceed to disappear. Amazingly, even the next candidate on the list is no longer to be found in his regular haunts.

What in the world is going on? The gentlemen’s families are becoming understandably concerned. The law sends an investigator. And Julia and Garth set out to discover what has happened to the missing grooms. Their quest, in response to letters from the mysterious Monsieur X, has them moving from one romantic rendezvous to another. It also restores the friendship they had once shared and perhaps something more.

As you can see, the plot is short on plausibility but long on humor. It is not easy to write slapstick humor but Holbrook succeeds. The scene where Julia, her butler, Garth and her dotty Aunt Clare are hiding suitor number four behind door number two and suitor number five between door number one, etc., is so well done that I could actually visualize all the funny scurrying about. And yes, I did laugh out loud more than once as the story proceeded.

If you are looking for the accuracy and detail that we Regency fans usually want in our books, then The Missing Grooms is not for you. But if you are willing to overlook Holbrook’s lack of verisimilitude (although she is getting better) and want a rollicking Regency romp, then read this book. You won’t be sorry.

--Jean Mason


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