The Butler Did It
by Kasey Michaels
(HQN Historical $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-77006-5
***
You are in an airport. You have a four or five hour trip ahead of you. Should you pick up Kasey Michaels’ The Butler Did It? It depends.

How much tolerance do you have for an arch tone to a story? Personally, I find that a little bit of arch goes a long way…and there is more than a little arch in Ms. Michaels’ book. Then again, does a farcical conclusion bother you? The climax of The Butler Did It deteriorates into not-very-amusing farce. However, if you can ignore the arch tone and the farcical ending doesn’t bother you, you will find yourself whiling away the flight with a pleasant, little Regency romance that mostly adheres to the Regency canon.

After an initial season on the town, which ended with a duel with his best friend, the Marquis of Westham retired to his country estate to wrestle with his volatile temper. In the meantime, for the past five years, his London town house has sat empty. Or so he assumes.

For the third year in a row, Thornley, the Marquis’ faithful butler, has leased rooms to individuals needing accommodations for the Season. This year his tenants include:

  • Edgar Marmon, a.k.a. Sir Edgar Marmington, age 70, who has concocted a splendid scheme which, he believes, will separate a fool from his money.
    The Clifford family, in London to marry off the daughter of the family, is made up of:
  • Fanny Clifford, another aging schemer, who plans to blackmail the beaux of her youth into providing her granddaughter with a suitor,
  • Daphne Clifford, Fanny Clifford’s widowed daughter-in-law, who is sure her daughter will marry well and has hopes for herself as well,
  • Emma Clifford, Daphne’s lively and "quite beautiful” daughter, who sold her mother’s diamonds to finance this foray into the Marriage Mart, and
  • Clifford Clifford, Emma’s younger brother, who is looking forward to enjoying every dissipation London has to offer.
  • · Olive Norbert, a London seamstress who, having unexpectedly inherited £5,000, is looking forward to experiencing the genteel life in the Marquis’ town house.

While Thornley is getting this remarkable assortment of guests settled in, his employer arrives unexpectedly. Morgan Drummond, the Marquis of Westham, has decided that he has conquered his dangerous temper and that it is safe for him to spend the Season in London, looking for a wife. That temper is sorely tested by what he finds on arrival, but he is persuaded not to toss his unwelcome guests out into the street and his staff in gaol.

“Persuaded” is the wrong word. The correct word is “blackmailed.” First, Emma tries to blackmail Morgan by threatening to go to the newspapers with a version of their eviction that will make him look like a heartless villain. While her threat gives Morgan pause, Emma’s spirited good looks are even more effective in swaying him. Her grandmother provides the cincher, however. Fanny Clifford threatens to tell Morgan’s mother about his father’s wild youth. Morgan doesn’t care what Mad Harry did twenty years ago, but he isn’t ready to inflict more distress on his widowed mother.

Once Ms. Michaels has everybody firmly in place in the Marquis’ townhouse – no mean feat, that, considering how unlikely it is that such a situation would ever occur - Morgan and Emma’s romance proceeds in a relatively convincing and engaging fashion. Sparks fly whenever Emma and Morgan meet…sometimes sparks of temper, sometimes the other sort of spark. Both characters learn more about themselves as their relationship progresses: Emma, that there is more of her grandmother in her than she suspected; Morgan, that there are pleasures that result from not losing your temper.

Fanny busily engineers most of the rest of the book’s action. While she is definitely not the most realistic character ever penned, her tough-minded larceny grew on me. After “two lifetimes” in the country, Fanny is determined to enjoy her London stay to the fullest. Her definition of ‘enjoyable’ is radically different from mine, but I must say that her exploits kept me reading.

So, go ahead and buy The Butler Did It for your flight. It will keep you amused until you land, and then you can leave it in the pocket of your seat for a flight attendant to read. See: both flight entertainment and a good deed! Sounds like a bargain to me.

--Nancy J Silberstein


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