Mystery, murder, mayhem and mature romance: what more could any reader want? Add a more than a pinch of wry humor and you have Judith Lansdowne’s latest Regency historical. Lansdowne has a unique voice and in Just in Time she is at the top of her game.
She starts with an unusual hero. Richard Dempsey is a clergyman, for heavens sake, and not in the bloom of youth either. After years working for the Bishop of Hereford, he is finally going to have a living of his own. The Duke of Berinwick has offered him St. Milburga’s of the Woods’ parish in exchange for his expertise in antiquities.
When he arrives at his new home, Richard is in for a number of shocks. First, he discovers that his patron has died in a coaching accident some months earlier. The new duke, a satirical and snappish young man, seems less than enthusiastic to welcome him. Next, he discovers that his church has not had a vicar for twenty years and is falling down around him. That the late duke killed the last vicar at his altar perhaps explains why no one has taken the job in the interim. Finally, Richard learns that the Duchess of Berinwick is none other than Veronica Longwood, his first and only true love. Of course, he was seven and Veronica was thirteen when they parted, but neither has ever forgotten their childhood playmate.
To add to the mix, on his first night, he encounters a ghostly apparition, the shade of Owain Glyndwr. Richard swiftly realizes that the white mist that surrounds the shade is flour and that this is no real ghost. But what in the world is going on in his new parish?
Richard soon discovers that the “accidents” that keep happening to the Thorne family are no accidents at all. Someone is threatening the Berinwicks. Could it have something to do with the centuries old feud between the Thornes and the Poles? The new vicar, with the help of the entire community, is determined to protect their duke, duchess and young Lady Hannah.
The whodunit is actually quite good, with all sorts of gothic elements. But what makes Just in Time so much fun is Richard. This is no ordinary clergyman. He is witty and wise, kind and caring. He spars happily with the young duke. William lost his eye as a young child and has adopted a cutting wit as armor against the taunts of his peers. He doesn’t quite know what to make of a parson who gives as good as he gets and does not seem overly impressed by his lofty status and sarcastic tone.
If her son doesn’t know what to make of Richard, Veronica has no doubts. He is as kind and sweet as he was as a child and he helps her overcome the guilt that has plagued her all her life about the accident. Veronica truly loved her husband and misses him very much. But she is open to loving again. For his part, Richard comes to understand that no woman he has met since has measured up to the Veronica of his memory and that the woman is, if anything, more lovable than the girl.
Lansdowne manages deftly to combine humor and danger. The humor arises partly from the interchanges between Richard and the duke, partly from his old hound Theophilus, partly from the local cast of characters. The danger becomes clearer and clearer as Richard tries to discover the villain who is threatening his new friends.
William, the young Duke of Berinwick is a particularly successful creation. Such an interesting young man deserves a romance of his own.
All in all, Just in Time is a most enjoyable romance. The fact that the lovers are in their forties just makes the book more enjoyable. Lansdowne has a winner in this, her fourth single title release.