|What a relief - Edith Layton has returned to straight Regency-set romance, leaving behind the paranormal business that dragged down her last book. His Dark and Dangerous Ways at times nearly descends into farce, and the comic undertones bring a lightness to the story that’s refreshing. This is a book to make you smile.
Miss Jane Chatham is a gentlewoman fallen on hard times. To support herself, she has devised a novel approach: she gives dancing lessons to very small girls, such as the toddler daughter of Lady Harwood. A beautiful widow on the hunt for a new husband, Lady Harwood hosts afternoon salons where she can search discreetly for a titled, wealthy gentleman to snare. When Jane takes an unfortunate tumble, exposing her limbs in a risqué fashion, it’s noted by several of the gentlemen present and soon Jane is the featured attraction in a popular caricature making the rounds in the bookshops.
This is dismaying enough, but things take a stranger turn when Jane is approached by Simon Atwood, Lord Granger, with an unusual proposition. Simon has relinquished his position as a spy for His Majesty’s government, having spent a year in a French prison. He returned to England disillusioned with life in general and women in particular, as his adored French mistress was the one who betrayed him. But Simon agrees to do one last favor for a friend, Lord Delancey. It seems that Delancey’s younger brother is making rather a fool of himself over an older widow named Lady Harwood, attending all of her salons and generally acting like a lovesick puppy. Would Simon kindly use his skills to find out if anything serious is going on?
Simon agrees, and after a visit or two to Lady Harwood’s, he decides that the pretty dancing instructor would make a perfect mole. Who better to spy on Lady Harwood and her gentleman callers? Simon approaches Jane with an offer she can’t financially refuse, and soon she is meeting with Simon - now dressed as a rat-catcher and a hackney driver, among other things - in working-class pubs and having a great time getting to know him. Simon, for his part, finds he can’t stop thinking about the appealing dancer with the honest demeanor.
Things take a turn toward the farcical when two other people decide Jane would make a perfect spy for Lady Harwood’s salon, and soon she’s trying to keep three “employers” apprised of the same situation. On top of this, though Jane and Simon are more and more attracted to each other every day, rumor has it he was, er, deprived of some vital parts while being tortured in prison.
Jane and Simon are a great deal of fun. Lord or no, Simon is as down-to-earth as they come, and his various amusing disguises add a bit of comedy to the story. Layton does charming heroes as well as any author around, and here the story actually stumbles a bit. We’re told that Simon is melancholy, doesn’t trust women anymore, etc. but his actions and his interest in Jane belie that almost from the start. Tortured heroes just don’t seem to come naturally to Layton. But that’s fine - Simon is a delight.
As for Jane, she’s plucky, but intelligent about it. On several occasions, she opens Simon’s eyes to the reality of a single woman making her way in London while determined to stay out of the brothels to do it, and it’s well done. Jane knows all too well that her popularity as a dancing mistress will quickly fade as soon as the novelty has worn off. Her attempts to gain some financial security before that time ring true.
As for the romance, some readers may be disappointed because Layton keeps everything under wraps until the very end, but this is in keeping with Jane’s character. A woman determined to make her own way in the world without resorting to filling a man’s bed would act as she does. I admit to being disappointed that all of the big action takes place off stage, however.
There is one curious aspect of the book. The type is fairly large and there are big spaces between the lines, as though the publisher had to work hard to fill out 373 pages. It’s easy on the eyes, but feels like padding, as though the book should really be a hundred pages shorter.
His Dark and Dangerous Ways isn’t particularly dark or dangerous, but as a lighthearted Regency-set romance, it’s a perfect choice for an afternoon’s read. Edith Layton is back in fine form. Pick this one up and enjoy!