Tuesday, May 17, 2011

TBR Challenge - The Melting Plot

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single aristocrat in possession of a fortune must be in danger of getting bumped off by his heir presumptive.

Here's why.  If it's plain Mr. Darcy, then he can will his fortune to whomever he cares to name as his heir.  But if it's an aristocrat, some portion of the estate is entailed...and thus the whole world knows who gets the entailed portions of the estate when the current titleholder dies.

Cornish cliff walk, made safe in modern times
So if you are Earl Bridgeport and things keep happening, like people slipping off the cliff path, carriage axles breaking under suspicious circumstances, or bits of the coping falling to the terrace just as you walk by...don't take the entire book to think, "Hmm, Cousin Harold is drowning in debt...d'you suppose he could be behind this?"

These wildly obvious attempts on his life fool no one except all the people in the book, although to her credit, our heroine, Mary Elaine Merriweather Thompson (all four names get used by the end) twigs to the ebil nature of the heir presumptive rather quicker than anyone else.  It only takes her witnessing four attempts before the penny drops.  The earl is unconvinced, although really I can't think why.

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with the assignment for this month:  Marriage of convenience, arranged marriage or pretend engagement.  I got misled by the back cover copy on Allison Lane's The Earl's Revenge:
Elaine Thompson prayed she would never have to see the Earl of Bridgeport again.  She had been barely past girlhood when she fled a forced marriage to this libertine lord who had wanted a wife only to produce an heir...

Maybe I'm a numbskull, but I rather thought the wedding had taken place, even if not consummated when she ran away.  Alas, no.  She runs away on the morning of the wedding, leaving our rakish earl at the altar.  (She had her reasons.)

Antony House, a National Trust property in Cornwall
But this book still fits the general intent of the assignment.  Elaine is tied to Bridgeport whether she likes it or not.  She can't marry anyone else, which is no great loss from her perspective, and when he shows up on her doorstep through pure coincidence, she's acutely aware of him.  She ends up playing hostess at his Cornish estate Treselyan, which requires her to quit her cottage with her companion and move into the manor house.  She may not be his countess, but in every other respect they're behaving a lot like a marriage of convenience couple.  So I'm going to say I think the book meets the larger intent of this month's challenge.

Okay, so we have the murderous cousin.  We have a rakish hero who needs to reform.  We have his poor little virtual orphan daughter (because when Elaine left him at the altar he had to marry someone else who conveniently died giving birth to Lady Helen).  We have the mystery of how Elaine can support herself for eight years.  And we have a lot of poetry tags, meaning she quotes some poetry and he supplies the name of the poet and, often, the poem. Then they switch off, so she's the one supplying the tag.  They may not see a murderer when one wanders by, but they know their assonances from their elbows.

Short list of the poets, etc., our nearly-married-for-convenience couple quote:  Byron, Shelley, Keats, Pope, Thornton, Shakespeare, Sheridan, and the Bible.  (There were more, but I wasn't taking notes.)  Wait.  What's that?  You don't recognize Thornton?  Um, there's a good reason for that.  But having spoiled the murder mystery for you, I'll leave the uh, thorny question of our mystery poet alone.

With everything that's going on in the plot of The Earl's Revenge, there's only one question left:  Does it work?  Well, Allison Lane's writing is far better than most authors of romances set in early 19th century England, so on balance I would say yes.  It's a Signet Regency, so no sex, but her characters are fun enough.

I just wish she'd followed the literary equivalent of Coco Chanel's famous advice: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory, less is always more.”  Ms. Lane might have done better to remove one of her plot devices.  I'd have voted for omitting that hoary cliché: the murderous heir presumptive.  It's been done to death!

1 comment:

  1. Janet W: My book too -- they exchanged a passionate kiss eons before -- time passes :D. And like your book, there was just too much happening, especially at the end. Complete with that most hoary of cliches, someone giving birth in the house. Oh puhleeze!

    Hope you get a chance to read mine. I too was fooled by the back cover. Maybe my book and yours had the same blurb writer.

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