A Fine Gentleman
by Laura Matthews
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19872-7
After a hiatus of several years, Laura Matthews has returned to the Regency fold with her new novel, A Fine Gentleman. I say, “Welcome back,” because Matthews clearly has a gift for writing enjoyable stories which she combines with a real knowledge of the customs and behavior of the Regency era. This new release showcases Matthews’ undoubted talent for writing enjoyable Regency romances.

Our “fine gentleman” is Richard, Viscount Hartville. He receives this appellation from a charming five-year old girl who is summarily deposited at his Cumbrian estate. Wilhelmina informs the viscount that she had been told that she was coming to her father’s home and that said father is “a fine gentleman.” Hartville strongly denies that he is Wilhelmina’s father and suggests that she be taken to the nearest orphanage. This plan is thwarted by his cousin, Caroline Carruthers, who insists that the child be taken in and an effort made to discover her parentage.

Caroline is one of Hartville’s many indigent relatives and has come to stay with his mother for an extended visit. Lady Hartville has concluded that Caroline is the perfect wife for her son. Hartville, however, views her as a “milk and water” miss and is not much interested -- until the arrival of Willy brings forward Caroline’s real personality.

Orphaned very young and left without resources, Caroline and her younger brother Jeremy have lived as someone’s dependents almost all their lives. Now twenty-four and twenty-two, the two have lived for a year in London, on the far fringes of respectable society. One of Jeremy’s friends, Giles Markingham, had begun to pay particular attention to the lovely Caroline. Indeed, it was Lady Hartville’s suspicions of Markingham that led her to invite her young relative for a visit.

The arrival of Jeremy and Markingham in the neighborhood adds an added complication to the growing relationship between Hartville and Caroline. So too does a mysterious midnight visitor who seems somehow interested in Wilhelmina and perhaps the locket she wears with a picture of a gentlewoman who must be her mother.

I liked the way Matthews developed the romance between Caroline and Hartville. He seems aloof and uncaring, but he is in fact a man with many cares and responsibilities who gradually comes to appreciate his talented and intelligent distant cousin. Caroline, newly aware of her own feelings because of Markingham’s attentions, finds herself increasingly fascinated by the viscount. I always like to watch a relationship develop rather than begin instantaneously.

Matthews brings all her characters fully to life, including the charming Jeremy who might well make an interesting hero in a book of his own, once he grows up a bit. She also has a sure touch when she creates the world of a Regency gentleman’s estate and describes his responsibilities. And she provides an interesting plot as the mystery of the child’s parentage is gradually uncovered.

A Fine Gentleman is a fine Regency romance. I hope it marks the first of many such tales by Laura Matthews. The Regency genre needs good authors who can feed our addiction.

--Jean Mason

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