Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Where We Live in Literalia

In Literalia, the city-state of literature, there are some obvious residential neighborhoods. 

Bestselling authors get to live in the homes of their dreams:  Stephen King is in that Gothic Victorian mansion over there, J.K. Rowling has her own castle (of course), Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman live in a sprawling craftsman-style bungalow with bicycles out front, and Salman Rushdie is in a very charming Georgian townhouse.

The "lit fic" crown tend to cluster in austere high-rises that are subsidized by library budgets.  Mystery writers are either in quaint thatched cottages with a cat in the window and a dead body or three under the hedge, or in brownstones on side streets in a city that never sleeps.  There are cemeteries in Literalia for the horror writers, hospitals for the medical thriller-writers, even a Potemkin federal building for the occasional author of international thrillers.

And there's a seedy red-light district for those sad, anonymous writers of porn.

If Literalia were zoned by readers, we in the romance fiction section would live in tidy suburban tract housing (well, except for Nora Roberts, who has a nice spread well out of the city center) -- a Levittown, if you will, of neat yards, generic landscaping, and cookie-cutter houses.

But Literalia isn't zoned by the readers.  Its subdivisions were decided decades if not centuries ago, and we live in ghettos that are barely habitable.  Only the red-light district digs are rattier.  Never mind that some romance writers make more money than Michael Chabon, sell more books than Salman Rushdie, and have better name recognition than most of the lit fic crowd -- in Literalia, we're redlined and we have been for a while.

What I'm struggling to understand is why.  Why did the romance novel -- which I'll define as a book about a love story that has a happy ending -- flourish but never command respect?  I no longer think it's because of the quality of the writing, i.e., that lit fic writers are such better writers than we are.  Yes, there are romance writers who aren't great writers.  But there are some who are, and truthfully, the quality of the writing isn't the determining factor of what sells well and what doesn't.  If better-written romances sold better, possibly writers would hone their craft even more.  If creative writing courses promoted the skills needed for writing romances, we'd have more MFA candidates joining RWA.

But everyone who writes knows that if you write romantic fiction, you're never ever going to be allowed to live in any of Literalia's nicer neighborhoods.  And if you want to avoid the romance ghetto, you'd better learn to write more like the lit fic crowd.

Which makes Eleanor Brown's novel, The Weird Sisters, so interesting.  Here's the New York Times review by Janet Maslin.  (I'll admit, I haven't read this one yet)  Sure, it's billed as a book about sisters, but...  If I'm reading the subtext of Maslin's review correctly, it sounds like all three sisters have happy endings, and possibly in part because they find true love.  What?  A book with three heroines and -- if my surmise is correct -- three love stories and three happy endings?  That's sounds a lot like something we might read.

I'm sure Eleanor Brown wants it to be a Jonathan Franzen-level buzz-worthy lit fic treasure.  But happy endings aren't the mainstay of the lit fic crowd.  It could be women's fiction, which fares slightly better in the Literalia housing map than romances, but is still looked down upon by the lit fic crowd in their high rise buildings.  There are happy endings in women's fiction books, mostly of a rather rueful or hard-won sort.  But it might (just might) also be a (shhhh) romance.  A lit fic romance... too much of an oxymoron?

Now, I know -- it's incredibly unlikely that Eleanor Brown is going to do a Romland blog tour, get reviewed by anyone at All About Romance, or be sitting at a table at the RWA literacy event in June signing copies of The Weird Sisters.  Which is kind of a shame, at least I think so.  Why shouldn't she get some buzz among romance readers?  And wouldn't it be great if a book reviewed -- favorably -- by the New York Times, no less, turned out to be an emotionally fulfilling read?

One reason why it might not be emotionally fulfilling (just to repeat: I haven't read it yet...) is if there's a lot of moral ambiguity or realistic complexity.  We do like things to be pretty straightforward in our romances.  The hero can be flawed, but make him too realistic and people will tell you flat out he's not heroic enough.  The heroine doesn't have to be gifted and gorgeous, but make her too humdrum and readers won't like the book.

Still, the list of unabashed romance novels that are beautifully written isn't the null set.  For some reason, even a romance with exquisite prose, complicated characters, and enough meat to make people growl over what plot elements really mean, is still very clearly a romance and not just a novel-with-a-happy-ending.  Romances don't "pass" very well for anything else.

Which is why we are so consistently being told where our place is.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

You Want More? The Law of Property Act of 1925

In the course of discussing the law of the entail, Anonymous asked about the Law of Property Act of 1925.  Anonymous also asked about Lord Peter Wimsey's entail to his son Bredon.  Henry's responded to the Wimsey entail query, but as it happens, the best way to discuss the Law of Property Act of 1925 is discuss Dorothy Sayers' Unnatural Death.

Oh, wait -- Henry has a few things to say (in red, the preferred color for one lawyer telling another what she got wrong):

There is one major problem here.  The book refers to the “Property Act 1925.”  I cannot find that any such Act existed.  There is a “Law of Property Act 1925”, but it does not seem to contain the specific provision on which the book turns.  The Law of Property Act 1925 seems to have been one of a bundle of related and interlocking laws on the subject passed that year, and the texts available on the Internet are all up-to-date, meaning that superseded parts, have been deleted, so it is possible that the Property Act 1925 had been entirely repealed and was never worth loading onto the computers, although it seems unlikely they would have two Acts with quite such confusingly similar titles.  Bizarrely, the best available text of the Law of Property Act 1925 is on the Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute website, because it is apparently still good law in Vanuatu, fka The New Hebrides.  Hallelujah!  (As will be explained below, Hallelujah “had the pleasant, slightly aquiline features and brown-olive skin of the Polynesian.”)

But first, a hypothetical scenario.

Assume that you're a young woman trained as a nurse.  You agree to leave your job to care for a great-aunt, your grandfather's sister.  She's a bit notorious in the family -- she made a fortune breeding horses for people with more money than sense.  Plus, she never married, but instead moved in with her sister-in-law's sister, also your great aunt.  When the horsey great-aunt dies, her fortune goes to her uh, roommate, your "Auntie" Miss Dawson.

Now, Auntie's a handful.  She's got cancer, which is a shame, but she insists that when she dies, you'll get the fortune.  Which is only fair, as you're the great-aunts' only living relative.  (Well, there's that funny fellow from the West Indies, Reverend Hallelujah Dawson, but he's not legitimate, so who cares.)  But then you learn that Parliament (oh, sorry -- did I not say you're English?) is proposing to enact a law that ends this business of finding a living relative -- no matter how remote the relationship -- to inherit when someone dies intestate, meaning without a will.

Oh, bother.  Auntie doesn't like wills.  She doesn't believe in them -- they upset her, all that "sound mind and body" nonsense.  She's still alive and cancer or no cancer, she intends to stay that way.  Time enough to think about making a will if Parliament enacts the law.  But Auntie's not doing so well, and the doctor brings in another nurse to care for Auntie.

Time to get some legal advice.  Hmm.  Not good news -- a youngish solicitor in London (well away from the village you and Auntie live in) seems to think that a great-niece might have trouble inheriting under the new law.  Back you go to talk -- and if that doesn't work, trick -- Auntie into making a will.  No dice, and worse luck, now the two housemaids know the convoluted efforts you're making to get Auntie to sign something with two witnesses, with all three people in the room together.  The housemaids may be too stupid to understand the significance, but anyone else will know that you only need two witnesses when it's a will being signed.

And then it's official: Parliament has signed [That would take some pen.  Parliament has passed, and George V has given the Royal Assent to] the Law of Property Act of 1925; it goes into effect on January 1.  It's November.  Do you:

1) Give up and let nature take its course?  or

2) Use your nursing training to er, help Auntie along to her heavenly reward?  No one will ever know...

Needless to say, in Unnatural Death, Mary Whittaker opts for Path #2.  Which is a shame, really, because by the time Lord Peter has figured out what Mary's motive for killing her great-aunt is, Auntie's not the only victim in this story.

Now -- a word of caution.  I wanted this on my Kindle, so I did a little jiggery-pokery and got the only e-book version of Unnatural Death going, which is *cough* geo-restricted to the UK.  I don't know what's in an American version, but I do know that along with the many delights this book has to offer are some invidious racial slurs and characterizations.  This includes a Bad Word that might have meant something less demeaning in England in the 20s than it does now -- but it's hard to read, and it's not just the one time.  So, if that's a deal-breaker for you, look for an edited (or Bowdlerized) version.  (Ross says the audiobook version(s) tend(s) to clean up such language, but I can neither confirm or deny that.)  [Cross reference the current debate about the Bowdlerized version of Huckleberry Finn, who was at least as black as Hallelujah Dawson, and probably a lot blacker.]  (Here's Michiko Kakutani of the NY Times on why such Bowdlerization of that particular Bad Word is not a good idea.)

But, that said, this is a wonderful book.  The dialogue is so good -- Sayers clearly had an excellent ear -- and so evocative of a time and place.  I particularly commend Miss Alexandra Katherine Climpson to you.  She's a delight from beginning to end.  And, as this is the book where she's introduced, there's a wonderful scene where Charles Parker, Lord Peter's friend at Scotland Yard, rather assumes that the woman Lord Peter is taking him to meet -- the woman Lord Peter has installed in a flat in Pimlico -- is, uh, well, let's just say that Miss Climpson comes as a complete surprise.

And we have lawyers!  Lots of lawyers.  Mr. Murbles, Lord Peter's own solicitor, Mr. Towkington, K.C., and a Mr. Trigg.  Towkington's the best, because he explains the motive.  The issue is what does the word "issue" mean.  Normally, it means the children of, and the children of their children, and so forth ad infinitum, thus roughly equivalent to progeny.  And when someone dies intestate, then, yes, there is a provision in the new law for their issue to inherit.  But what if they have no issue, meaning no children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren...?  Their siblings inherit, and if their siblings are deceased, then their siblings' issue.

Ah, but even if the word "issue" means children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren when it's of the deceased's body, does the new law intend that the deceased's siblings' children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren should all be considered issue?  Or -- and here's Mary's problem -- is "issue" limited in that case to the children of the deceased's siblings?  If so, Mary doesn't inherit Auntie's estate, and it reverts to the Duchy of Lancaster, which is to say, the Crown.

Here's Towkington's explanation:
  'What does the Act say?  It says, "to the brothers and sisters of the whole blood and their issue."  Now in the absence of any new definition, I should say that the word is here to be construed as before the Act it was construed on intestacy -- in so far, at any rate, as it refers to personal property, which I understand the property in question to be, eh??

[It suddenly occurred to me to Google that exact quotation.  I got four hits.  All of them were copies of Unnnatural Death on Cyrillic (!) language sites: two in the Ukraine, one in Romania, and one in the Cocos Islands.  Hallelujah!]

Back to Mr. Towkington...

  '[I]t's like this,' said Mr. Towkington, graciously.  'Before 1837 -- '
  'Queen Victoria, I know,' said Peter, intelligently.
  'Quite so.  At the time when Queen Victoria came to the throne, the word "issue" had no legal meaning - no legal meaning at all.'
  'You surprise me!'
  'You are too easily surprised,' said Mr. Towkington.  'Many words have no legal meaning.  Others have a legal meaning very unlike their ordinary meaning.  For example, the word "daffy-down-dilly".  It is a criminal libel to call a lawyer a daffy-down-dilly.  ha!  Yes, I advise you never to do such a thing.  No, I certainly advise you never to do it.  Then again, words which are quite meaningless in your ordinary conversation may have a meaning in law.  For instance, I might say to a young man like yourself, "You wish to leave such-and-such property to so-and-so."  And you would very likely reply, "Oh, yes, absolutely" -- meaning nothing in particular by that.  But if you were to write in your will, "I leave such-and-such property to so-and-so absolutely," then that word would bear a definite legal meaning, and would condition your bequest in a certain manner, and might even prove an embarrassment and produce results very far from your actual intentions.  Eh, ha!  You see?'
  'Very well.  Prior to 1837, the word "issue" meant nothing.  A grant "to A. and his issue" merely gave A. a life estate.  Ha!  But this was altered by the Wills Act of 1837.'
  'As far as a will was concerned,' put in Mr. Murbles.
  'Precisely.  After 1837, in a will, "issue" means "heirs of the body" -- that is to say, "issue ad infinitum".  In a deed, on the other hand, "issue" retained its old meaning -- or lack of meaning, eh, ha!  You follow?'
  'Yes,' said Mr. Murbles, 'and on intestacy of personal property--'
  'I am coming to that,' said Mr. Towkington.
  '--the word "issue" continued to mean "heirs of the body", and that held good till 1926.'
  'Stop!' said Mr. Towkington, 'issue of the child or children of the deceased certainly mean "issue ad infinitum" -- but -- issue of any person not a child for the deceased only meant the child of that person and did not inclue other descendants.  And that undoubtedly held good till 1926.  And since the new Act contains no statement to the contrary, I think we must presume that it continues to hold good.  Ha!  Come now!  In the case before us, you observe that the claimant is not the child of the deceased nor issue of the child of the deceased; nor is she the child of the deceased's sister.  She is merely the grandchild of the deceased sister of the deceased.  Accordingly, I think she is debarred from inheriting under the new Act, eh?  Ha!'
  'I see your point,' said Mr. Murbles.

Clear as mud, eh? Ha!

Personally, I love this stuff, but I'm the first to admit it's not that coherent.  When I read Unnatural Death for the first time, decades ago, I probably just skimmed over the legal stuff.  (Even then, Property Law bored me to tears.)  But now I'm fascinated not so much by the substance as by the presentation.  Sayers nails these lawyers.  Even allowing for the 80+ year gap and different country, I can hear Towkington's loud, pompous style -- he's the smartest guy in the room (or so he thinks) and he knows it.

By the way, I haven't spoiled anything by telling you that Mary Whittaker is the murderer -- everyone surmises that almost immediately.  And if, like me, you read this book years ago, you may recall the method of the murder.  But even so this book still works -- I was racing for the end to see what happens next.  It's wonderful -- lawyers (and invidious racial slurs) notwithstanding.

As an aside, I will add that Henry and I discussed Mary's legal alternatives.  We think that Mary should have picked Path #1 above and let nature take its course.  When Auntie died, Mary could have filed letters of administration in the Probate, Divorce & Admiralty court to claim the estate.  What's the likelihood that the Duke of Lancaster would object?  And even if some representative of the Crown had objected, Mary's what's known in the law as a "sympathetic plaintiff" -- she's the only living relative of both the source of the original fortune but also the deceased, there's evidence that the deceased intended that Mary get the money, and she was a good sport about nursing not one but two elderly women.  Chances are good – but though not 100% -- that she gets the money on equitable groundsShe has two throws of the dice there.  (1) Given that it’s a totally new question of law, the judge can interpret “issue” either way, so he interprets it in her favor; (2) Even if she loses in Court, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster decides that Agatha really meant Mary to have the money, so it would be fairest to give her the money anyway.  And given that the chances were good -- but not 100% -- that she'd get away with murder, I'd have thought it better to pick the less uh, criminal of the two paths.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to Make a Cup of Tea (TBR Challenge 2011)

Not the method I would recommend for making a cup of tea...
I'm participating in this year's To Be Read Challenge, wherein I read a book from my TBR pile and comment on it.  (I don't do reviews, at least not in the sense where I presume to tell anyone else whether a book is good or not.  Bluntly, I'm too cranky, and undoubtedly most of the books I didn't like would be rated "good" or better by someone else.)

This month's category is Category books, meaning books published by Harlequin Enterprises or one of its subsidiaries in a "line" such as Harlequin Blaze, Silhouette Desire, Harlequin Presents, etc.  I grabbed a Leanne Banks (the cover helpfully says she's a USA Today Bestselling Author) Silhouette Desire entitled CEO's Expectant Secretary.

Titular CEO Brock Maddox is sleeping with his personal assistant, Elle.  (If he had a secretary, we never meet her or him.)  Brock learns she's been stealing corporate secrets.  He confronts her.  We learn that she had to do this for her grandfather, whose company is Maddox Communications' biggest competitor, lest he not pay for Elle's mother's experimental cancer treatment.  Brock doesn't know that (because his private investigator didn't bother with the "why" just the "who") when he confronts Elle.  She admits everything, then throws up offstage, which leads Brock to realize she's pregnant.  He proposes, but not in a nice way.  He leaves, confronts Elle's grandfather, who has a heart attack.  Elle rushes to the hospital, sees Brock and her grandfather, and promptly faints.

We're up to page 24.

Now, here's where the TBR Challenge is a good thing, because otherwise I'd have thrown the book against the wall at this point.  I'm sure a more realistic book can be written with these elements: office affair, unplanned pregnancy, corporate rivalry, coercion and concomitant corporate espionage, and forced marriage . . . but it would take more more than 18 pages.  There's showing, there's telling, and then there's a rushed narrative of blatantly unrealistic stuff.

But once we get the grandfather stabilized, the protagonists married, and the baby has survived a rather gratuitous fall on the stairs (still in the first four chapters, mind you), this book settles down to answer a rather intriguing question: how do you take two people forced to marry for the sake of a baby and forge a lasting bond between them?

Now, that's a book I want to read.  I could have done without all the palaver, and I still think that Glenda Sanders wrote a much better book in the same vein (Daddy Darling, which I wrote about over at Monkey Bear Reviews), but fundamentally, I prefer romances about two people working out the wrinkles in their relationship.

Unfortunately, not enough happens in the remainder of this book.  In fact, the real obstacle to Brock & Elle's happiness is the fact that she was sleeping with him when she stole corporate secrets.  Sure, we can (if we close one eye) see why she stole secrets and we can (if we close the other eye) see why she slept with him.  But to do both?  That was plain stupid, and from Brock's point of view, that was a double low blow.  But at the end of the book, all trust issues have evaporated, and not for a particularly convincing reason.

Which brings me to how to make a cup of tea.  I've had to learn the proper British way to make a cup of tea, and the critical step is to pour really boiling water onto tea leaves in a pre-warmed teapot.  Well, there's no doubt that CEO's Expectant Secretary is boiling away in that first chapter.  By the end, though, it's about as appealing as a tepid cup of tea.

I reckon that somewhere in the middle it was perfect: flavorful and just the right temperature.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Downton Abbey Fans - Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be "Queen's Counsel."  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry's grandfather took silk -- Britspeak for becoming a QC -- long enough ago that he was actually King's Counsel!)

Below are the questions I put to Henry, and his answers (modified slightly as needed).

But first, an explanation of this post's title.  One of the four classes nearly all law students take right off the bat is Property Law.  Property is anything you own, or have title to, or have a right to.  Property gets divided into:

Real property, i.e., land:
Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed

Personal property: smaller, fungible, intangible stuff like stocks, jewelry, personal possessions, and money:
Marie-Louis Diadem (at the Smithsonian)

(Intellectual property, such as patents & copyrights, are handled in another, non-mandatory, class.)

Property Law deals with the ownership, control, and transfer of real property, but it also deals with the transfer from one party to another of all property, as through a will or a trust.  And if I'd known how vital all the archaic snippets of Anglo-Saxon property law would be to certain historical romance novels, I might have paid better attention.  But I didn't.

Here, then, is what you might want to know about the law behind the plot of Downton Abbey.  In that story, Robert, the 6th Earl of Grantham, is married to Cora, an American heiress.  His father, the 5th earl, managed to tie up the funds from their marriage so that they can't be settled on Robert and Cora's daughters, but instead must go, along with the title and the estate, to a third cousin, Matthew Crawley.  But why?  Why can't the money -- which comes from Cora's American nabob father -- go to her children?

For all of us who read historical novels, it may seem perfectly reasonable that an estate (which includes both personal and real property) may be entailed to the next male heir.  To modern sensibilities, this must seem odd, particularly the idea that such an arrangement can't be undone when the heir presumptive, Robert's cousin James, and his only son die on the Titanic.  Matthew Crawley is a complete stranger, so why does Cora's wealth go to him?

Henry doesn't know the answer, but he's got a good idea how it might work:

First off, what's an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant's (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate.  If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple.  Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can't be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to "the 6th earl and heirs of his body" (meaning his legitimate biological children) or "and heirs male of his body" or "and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora."  When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will.  The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I'm not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares.
You could put in a remainder "pur autre vie", which might read something to the effect of "to the 6th earl, heirs male of his body, and failing them heirs male of the first earl."  That would produce the desired effect, and could not be broken until Matthew [who is descended from the first earl] both inherits and has an adult son as his heir apparent.
A classic entail does present a Rule Against Perpetuities problem.  I don't know how they got round that, except by special permission of the Crown.

Oh, lord, the Rule Against Perpetuities.  I don't think anyone in my Property Law class got those questions right.
Just say that it prevents someone from controlling who gets his estate long after his death.

Okay, I can work with that.  So, are we likely working with a case of a classic entail here?
I recall my father explaining to me that in practice, true entails are not usual.  What you actually have is a settlement from generation to generation.  This avoids the Rule Against Perpetuities, by binding only the current tenant and his infant or hypothetical son.  When the son reached 21, he was persuaded, usually in consideration of a substantial and immediate increase in his allowance, to resettle the estate for another generation.  The weakness of that system is that if the father dies before the son is 21, the son inherits free and clear when he is 21 (or if I apply Black's definition of the Rule very strictly, the son can be limited to a life interest, but with no further control after the son's death).  Also, if there is no son, the settlement expires, unless there is a springing interest to a cousin - in which case the cousin inherits free and clear.  You are then relying on the son or cousin to voluntarily reestablish the settlement. 
So, assume Cora's father created a settlement in favor of 6th earl, 6th earl's unborn eldest son, and springing reversion to the next heir of the earldom if there is no son who survives to majority.  That would produce the described effect.  It avoids the Rule Against Perpetuities because the springing reversion activates, if at all, no later than 21 years and 9 months after the 6th earl dies.  If you could break the reversion, then I think the settlement would fall into the 6th earl's estate, and he could will it to Mary.  

Clearly the family is not happy with the result.  What should they have done differently?
Well, that depends on what they wanted to happen instead.  Since it's Cora's father's money, a settlement in favor of Cora's children, with reversion to Cora's American family, would seem fairer to modern minds, but given that the purpose was to subsidize the earldom, the 6th earl seems to have got exactly what his father wanted.  One solution is to bump off the current countess, Cora, find a young and fertile second wife and try to have a son, but I assume that bucks too many hypos.

Yeah, we rather like Cora, and Robert likes her too.  Plus, he's too honorable for murder.  (His mother, on the other hand...) 
*dead silence*

If Mary, the eldest daughter, marries Matthew, the third cousin who has a "job" and knows what a "weekend" is, does that solve the problem?
Mary marrying Matthew would "fix" things because their eldest son would inherit the earldom and the money, and would be a descendant of the American nabob, so everybody gets what they wanted.  It matters that it's Mary rather than Sybil or Edith if, and only if, there is a settlement or entail to heirs, not limited to heirs male, and only if that has the effect of passing the money to the eldest daughter rather than to daughters jointly.  If Mary inherits by the 6th earl's will after the settlement or entail fails, then he could equally make Sybil or Edith his heiress. 

Why can't Matthew relinquish all rights to the title and estate and thus agree with Robert to break the entail?
Matthew is the heir presumptive, not the heir apparent.  Bluntly, he could be superseded as the heir to the earldom if Robert has a legitimate male heir.  Matthew's right to inherit the title and the estate are conditional, so he does not have the legal right to break the entail.  Only an heir apparent would have that right.  Only an eldest son meets the conditions of an heir apparent: direct descendant of the current title holder, male, and can't be superseded by another.

Which is a bit of a catch-22, isn't it?  If they had a male heir of Cora's American family as well as of the first earl then the money and the estate both go to the rightful person, and they don't need to break the entail.  Without a son, Cora's money goes, with the title, to this fellow no one knows and who doesn't seem to want it.  But because the earl still might have a son, Matthew can't help Robert break the entail.
Welcome to property law, where rules established in the 13th century are only now passing slowly out of favor...

Okay, so assume they go to court to break the entail.  Do they have an argument? 
Their best argument is that Cora's father was inadequately briefed by his lawyer and thus got bamboozled by the 5th earl.  But unless they can show something fishy was going on, it's unlikely that any English court would believe that an American nabob couldn't afford the best lawyers to protect his interests.

S.O.L., hunh?
'Fraid so.

Thanks, Henry.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Deciphering Blurbs & Reviews - Romance Fiction

A recent Araucaria cryptic crossword puzzle used the following handy guide to deciphering publishers' blurbs.  Prepared by the novelist Sarah Harrison for Slightly Foxed (#27), this list is clearly most relevant to general British fiction, the stuff vying for the Booker Prize, for example:
If the blurb says Enchanting, it means there's a dog in it
Heart-warming: a dog and a child
Heart-rending: they die
Thoughtful: tedious
Thought-provoking: tedious and hectoring
Haunting: set in the past
Exotic: set abroad
Prize-winning: set in India
Perceptive: set in NW3 [Northwest London, i.e., Hampstead Heath & environs]
Epic: the editor was cowed by writer's reputation
From the pen of a master: same old same old
In the tradition of: shamelessly derivative
Provocative: irritating
Spare and taut: under-researched
Richly detailed: over-researched

But that's no use to us, is it?  So in the tradition of Ms. Harrison, here's my shamelessly derivative list for romance novel blurbs and reviews:
Page-turner: You can't wait for it to end
Fast-paced: It ends too soon
Lengthy: You can't make it through the sagging middle
Excitement/tension/passion builds: Flabby opener
Satisfying conclusion: All excitement/tension/passion dies by the end
Simple yet stylish prose: Written at a third-grade level
Simple yet sensual prose: But don't let your third-graders get their hands on it
Steamy: You might blush while reading it
Scorching: Best read in private or on an e-reader
Erotica: Best read at home and alone

There are some terms that get used with the specific genres --
For contemporaries:
Lighthearted: You won't care about the characters
EnchantingUnrealistic situations
Hilarious: Characters behave like idiots
Unexpected: Characters have nothing in common
Sweet: No sex
Sensual: They have euphemistic sex
Hot: They have non-euphemistic sex

For historicals:
UnconventionalWould never have happened in real life
CharmingOnly historically accurate element is the clothing
Traditional: You've read it all before
Cheerful: No research was done
Serious: A lot of research was done
Painstaking: You'll feel like you're in history class
Tortured past: Hero has an excuse for bad behavior
Madcap: Heroine has an excuse for bad behavior

For paranormals & urban fantasy:
Defies conventions: Vampires or werewolves in name only
Elaborate world building: There is no logic to the story
Compelling subplots: You'll skip over these entirely
Latest in a series: $$$$
Matter of life & death: Everyone survives to appear in the next installment

For suspense and thrillers:
Twists and turns: Plot makes no sense
Explosive revelations: The ending makes no sense
Satisfying conclusion: You predicted the ending from the beginning
Fast-paced: Can't tell what's going on so just keep reading
Solitary: There's a good reason why the hero has no friends
Enigmatic: The hero's backstory makes no sense
RuthlessIn real life, the hero would be in jail.  For life.
Dangerous: The hero's as likely to kill the heroine as make love to her
Strong: The heroine is an idiot
Vulnerable: The heroine will do everything necessary to keep herself in jeopardy
Virginal: You bought the thug-as-hero, so you'll buy the virgin-in-her-20s-heroine