|I enjoyed Nowhere Near Respectable, mainly because Mary Jo Putney can take a plot premise that would seem virtually unworkable and make it not only plausible, but entertaining. Her heroine, however, is inconsistent and frustrating.
Lady Kiri Lawford is the child of an English duke and a Hindu princess of India. Her father died before she was born and her stepfather, a famous English general, raised her. Kiri’s brother is the Duke of Ashton, and Kiri is in England to look for an English husband. Society tolerates her because of her great fortune and men flock to her because of her beauty. The story opens at a country estate as Kiri overhears her hostess call her a number of ugly names, disparage her family, and admit she’s only tolerable because of her money. Enraged, Kiri packs a few things, takes a horse, and determines to ride to Dover where she can catch a coach back to London.
Unfortunately, Kiri runs into a band of smugglers who kidnap her. She is rescued by Damian Mackenzie, owner of a London gaming club who purchases illegal spirits from the smugglers. They escape and hide out in a barn. Kiri finds she is intrigued by and attracted to Damian, and he is equally drawn to her. They share an impulsive kiss. Kiri is quite willing to pursue things, but Damian, who attended school with Kiri’s brother, knows he is not of her class. Damian, you see, is a bastard and is scorned by Society, even as they make him rich by frequenting his club.
Kiri is determined to see Damian again, and sneaks into his club, where she inadvertently foils a plot to harm Princess Charlotte. Kiri’s ability to identify a person by his scent is revealed, and soon Kiri and Damian are working together to track down the would-be assassins.
The author doesn’t gloss over the difficulties faced by a mixed-race family in Regency England, but she doesn’t dwell on it, either. Kiri’s brother holds a dukedom; this is enough to protect her from the worst of Society’s insults, and his power and wealth help insulate the family further. People may sneer, but they do it behind the family’s back, not to their face.
Damian’s insistence that he and Kiri have no future together started to wear a bit thin after a while. He certainly wouldn’t have been a match for a conventional English lady, but Kiri and her family are unconventional enough that his protests felt a bit cardboard. Still, he tries to remain honorable and resist Kiri, even when she tries to initiate an affair.
And here is where I felt the book made a misstep. Kiri simply can’t decide what she wants to be. Proper Englishwoman? Passionate Hindu princess? When she decides she wants to be intimate with Damian, it’s with no thought to the possible consequences – just a mental shrug and the reasoning “well, I want to know what it’s like with you,” convincing herself it’s fine and she shouldn’t deny her passionate Hindu nature. Yet she’s in England willingly, to find a proper husband of her own class. Kiri is a creature of the moment in this respect, though at other times she shows herself to be smart and full of good sense. Her morals are a weathervane, justifying her impulses. This didn’t really work for me.
The story is entertaining, and the subplot about Princess Charlotte allows Damian and Kiri to work together in unlikely situations. I liked Kiri; she’d be a fun person to spend time with. But she wasn’t well-defined in some respects. Damian is a decent sort who just can’t help himself once Kiri throws herself at him, and who could blame him?
Nowhere Near Respectable is mostly enjoyable, and the unusual background of Kiri and her family makes this a unique read in many respects. Mary Jo Putney writes beautifully; her many fans will find this a welcome addition to her catalogue.