Have you ever gone to a party…a wedding, for instance…and enjoyed yourself, only to find that the party dragged on a little too long? That was my reaction to Deborah Simmons’ A Man of Many Talents. I had fun with the ghost-hunting Viscount Moreland and Miss Abigail Parkinson, the new owner of Sibel Hall, but I would have had more fun if Ms. Simmons had picked up the pace.
Christian Reade, Viscount Moreland, unmasked the famous Belles Corners ghost, and now he is besieged by requests to vanquish other hauntings. He is not interested. His home, Bexley Court, recently burned to the ground and, while making plans to rebuild it, he has found himself unexpectedly interested in architecture and construction. His grandfather, the Earl of Westhaven, has other plans. He inveigles Christian into agreeing to go to Sibel Hall, in Devon, to see if he can solve the mystery of its ghost.
Once he gets to Sibel Hall, Christian is baffled by his chilly reception. Abigail Parkinson wrote to him to initiate the visit, so why isn’t she happier to see him? Christian - handsome, wealthy, and titled - is used to being courted; Miss Parkinson, rather than pursuing him, seems to be avoiding him. And why should that bother him, anyway? She is the dowdiest young woman he has met in a long time, dressed in plain, ill-fitting gowns and with her hair pulled back severely. Mentally, Christian calls her The Governess and expects to have his hand smacked by her ruler at any moment.
For the first 100 pages, the narrative is all from Christian’s point of view, as Ms. Simmons keeps us wondering along with Christian as he tries to figure out both the mystery and Abigail Parkinson. Who is responsible for the white specter that is frightening away prospective buyers, and why is he increasingly attracted to this woman who shows no signs of a reciprocal interest? It isn’t until Christian has gotten a rough idea from Abigail herself of her life as her godmother’s companion and has discovered a few, tentative clues to the haunting that the point of view shifts to Abigail. Very clever of Ms. Simmons - by this time I was bursting to know more about Abigail and whether she was as interested in Christian as he was in her.
I also wondered what Abigail thought of the three cousins she inherited with the house: the elderly, ditzy Miss Mercia Penrod; blustery Colonel Horace Avrill; and Emery Osbert, a whiny, studious young man. I knew what I thought of them - that they were seriously annoying, individually and in the aggregate - and I knew that Christian suspected that one or more of them had some role in the hauntings, but Abigail’s reactions to her cousins remained murky. Too bad. In the three cousins, Ms. Simmons has provided us with a diverse cast of secondary characters. More of how Abigail felt about her new relations would have fleshed out both their characters and hers.
A hero with hidden depths; a heroine who badly needs rescuing; reasonably interesting secondary characters; a nice, light writing style…if only Ms. Simmons had kept the plot moving more quickly, I could have raised my rating up a notch. As it is, though, Abigail blows hot and cold over Christian a little too often, and Christian is a little too slow to start investigating the obvious suspects: the residents of Sibel Hall. In the end, A Man of Many Talents is a pleasant story but one that meanders on its way to its finale.
--Nancy J. Silberstein