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Best Laid Schemes by Emma Jensen
(Fawcett Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-449-00234-9
****
Do you like stories about serious-minded noblemen who decide it is time to marry and proceed to select a wife in the most rational and calculating manner, only to have a monkey wrench (or should we say spanner) throw their plans into disarray? Do you like your Regencies humorous filled with slightly fey characters and wholly funny pratfalls? Then I bet you will like Emma Jensen's latest release, Best Laid Schemes.

Tarquin Rome, Earl of Hythe, has narrowed his choice of a bride down to three Incomparables, one an ethereal blond, another a fashionable brunette, another a striking redhead. He has invited the three lovelies and their parents to a house party at his castle in Kent. He believes that seeing them together in more informal surroundings than London balls and routs will enable him to determine which will be the perfect countess. That all three young ladies and their ambitious parents accept this somewhat unusual plan tells us all we have to know about the earl's eligibility.

Tarquin is not pleased when he discovers that his mother has made an addition to his guest list. She has invited her dear friend, Lady Leverham and her niece, Sibyl Cameron. Tarquin is somewhat dismayed that Lady Leverham and her monkey, Galahad will be gracing his party. He is truly concerned when he hears that Sibyl is coming. He has known the young lady for 13 years, since she was a ten year old child. And his encounters with Miss Cameron had usually ended with some disastrous accident that left him battered and bruised.

Sibyl Cameron is an attractive brunette with speaking brown eyes. She is bright, practical, well educated and full of good sense. This has made her something of an oddity in her family, since the Camerons are noted for their romantical dispositions. In only one way does she resemble her family: at the age of ten she decided that Tarquin Rome was the epitome of British manhood and fell in love with him. Most of the exploits that led to such unhappy consequences for Tarquin were the result of her desire to get her hero's attention.

Older and wiser now, Sibyl is not particularly happy about attending a house party whose purpose is to allow Tarquin to pick another woman as his bride. But she is not sure what she can do to change the situation. She knows full well that her youthful escapades have left Tarquin with the conviction that she is a dangerous hoyden. And their first meeting after five years is not particularly encouraging: he finds her chasing Galahad all over his entry hall and looking a complete mess.

Jensen takes this traditional plot and runs with it. The earl finds himself the target of a number of mysterious pranks designed it seems to make him a less attractive parti. He finds in each of the Incomparables certain flaws that make each seem less attractive as a tenant for life. And he finds that grown-up Sibyl is very different from the hoyden he remembers. And there are those eyes.

There is lots of potential for humor in the above scenario, and Jensen takes full advantage of them. But the humor is not forced; it simply flows from the plot. And "old stick in the mud" me actually laughed out loud more than once.

Tarquin is a bit of prig as the book begins, but, under Sibyl's influence (and with a little help from his friends), he unbends and recovers some of the joy of living he had before he was thrust early into the responsibility of his inheritance. It is quite clear that she will re-humanize him and teach him to enjoy himself.

Best Laid Schemes is a first rate Regency romance and Jensen is clearly one of the best Regency authors currently writing. It has an almost Heyer-like quality in some of the situations and dialogue. One more reason to bemoan the demise of the Fawcett Regencies. Have you written the publisher yet?

--Jean Mason


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