|A Tangled Web uses that Regency staple – the house party – as the foundation for a story about four men and four women, and their various machinations as they try to match up with one another. The Dowager Viscountess Ransome is bored. To fill up her summer, she decides to host a house party and invite her two nieces, Diana and Charlotte, and Charlotte’s friend, Lady Caroline Reid. To balance the numbers, (and perhaps initiate some matchmaking) she includes Lord Edward Sutton, son of a duke; Mr. Roland Kirk-Bedwin, a minor nobleman; and local gentleman Mr. Frederick Parcival, who is an interesting card player. There is also a local widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Damer; and the dowager’s new friend, Mrs. Rachel Cole, a widow who has recently returned from America with her grown son, Tom. Tom Cole has made a fortune in the fur trade.
So, as one character puts it, there are two nieces, one social butterfly, two noblemen, a widow who is perhaps an adventuress, a card player, and an elderly widow with a wealthy son. Well put. And some of them have a history. Diana, Lady Gilbert, was once in love with Tom Cole, who at that time was a tenant on her father’s estate. They were discovered, and the Coles were banished. Diana was told they “immigrated” to America (come on, proofreaders, pick up a dictionary, will ya?) She went on to marry a dull cousin, as expected, and is now a widow. The last thing she expects is to meet Tom again, and at her aunt’s home, no less.
Tom has never forgotten his lovely Diana. But he’s unsure how she might feel, and they circle each other cautiously. Meanwhile, Frederick Parcival is out of funds and looking to snare Diana and her money. Mrs. Damer, also penniless, decides that Tom Cole will do very well to support her in luxury. Diana’s shy sister, Charlotte, finds herself drawn to thoughtful Lord Edward, but she is sure he’s interested in her vivacious friend, Lady Caroline. As the schemers try to break couples apart, others are trying to push couples together.
It’s an interesting concept, if a bit crowded, and for the most part, it seems to work. Tom and Diana take quite a while to sit down and have an honest talk, and this is a bit exasperating. There’s little to impede their romance other than their own hesitation. Charlotte, the shy sister, comes off as an interesting and likable young lady, and she could have held her own with more page space. The nefarious Elizabeth and Frederick are standard-issue, and the rest of the cast pretty much stays in the background.
Diana and Tom are decent types, though it was hard to believe that he’d return from America with a fortune from running trap lines. The men making the money were the brokers, not the trappers themselves. This is glossed over; we’re asked to simply accept that he took his mother to America, spent some winters chasing mink and beaver and dreaming about Diana, and returned to England rich.
A Tangled Web is an acceptable, if not particularly memorable, Regency romance. If you enjoy the Regency house party background, you’ll likely enjoy it very much.