Scandal in Venice by Amanda McCabe
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-451-20286-4
****
The appearance of another new Regency author is always a cause for rejoicing by fans of the genre. Likewise, when the author chooses a markedly different setting for her story, this is encouraging to those who get a bit weary of the world of the London ton. Thus Amanda McCabe’s debut novel is a welcome addition, despite some minor problems with the plot.

We meet the heroine, Lady Elizabeth Everdean in the prologue in very trying circumstances. Her step-brother had informed Elizabeth that he has arranged a marriage for her. Elizabeth is not unhappy; her brother’s behavior since he has returned from the war has made the prospect of leaving his care attractive. Then she meets her proposed groom. The Duke of Leonard is an old roué. Elizabeth spurns his attentions but the duke is determined. He comes to her room and attacks her. As she defends herself, she causes the duke’s death. Elizabeth, fearing the consequences flees.

The story proper opens two years later. Sir Nicholas Hollingsworth encounters his army comrade, Peter Everdean in London. Peter had saved Nick’s life during the war and Nick had thought him dead. Now Peter wants a favor from his friend. He has discovered that his sister is in Venice and he wants Nick to go and bring her back to England.

Nick is willing to undertake the commission for two reasons. First, he owes Peter his life. Secondly, since the war ended, he has lived a riotous life in London and it has become somewhat boring. He has created scandal after scandal; mostly it seems to embarrass his father. The bastard son of a duke, Nick has never forgiven his father for seducing and refusing to marry his mother, despite the fact that the duke had raised his orphaned son. So Nick heads off to Venice.

Elizabeth had sought refuge with her school friend, Georgina. After losing her beloved husband in the war, Georgina had married two wealthy older men, both of whom had died. She is now wealthy enough to live her own life and pursue her artistic ambitions. Elizabeth, or Lizzie as she is called, is also a talented artist. The two have traveled and painted throughout Italy and have now come to Venice for Carnival. At a masked ball, Lizzie spies an intriguingly handsome man who seems interested in her. Nick has finally found Elizabeth Everdean.

The mischievous Georgina, sensing an attraction between the two, suggests to Nick that Lizzie needs a secretary. Is he looking for a position? Nick realizes that becoming a member of the household will allow him to fulfill his commission for his friend more easily, agrees to take the post.

Nick thus becomes part of Georgina’s and Lizzie’s unconventional ménage. He soon discovers that his employer is an immensely gifted artist and a kind and spirited friend. Unlike her friend, Lizzie has not engaged in frivolous love affairs but she begins to fall in love with her unconventional secretary and he with her. But what of the deception he is perpetrating and what of his promise to his friend?

The strong points of Scandal in Venice are the characters. Lizzie has chosen an unconventional life but it suits her; she will stifle if she returns to the confines of English society. Nick, an outsider by definition, comes to understand her need for freedom. Equally intriguing are Georgina and Peter, as we come to understand the forces that have shaped their lives.

The romance is also very nicely developed. It begins with an inexplicable but powerful attraction, but becomes something more as the hero and heroine get to know each other and become friends and then fall truly in love. What doesn’t quite work is Nick’s reluctance to tell Lizzie the truth and the results of his deception.

Still, Scandal in Venice offers an unusual heroine and a nicely done and different setting. It is a most promising debut novel. Now, I wonder if I am correct in thinking that Peter’s story will be found in McCabe’s next book and if I have figured out what it will be. I think McCabe is at the beginning of a very promising career.

--Jean Mason


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