The Secrets of Wiscombe Chase
Christine Merrill is an author who can be relied upon to insert the unusual in her novels, and considering she writes regency romances, this is saying something. The Secrets of Wiscombe Chase delivers in that it takes a common trope – the marriage of convenience – and gives is several twists.
Lillian North is the daughter of a con-man hanging onto the fringes of society, but even she is surprised when her father orders her to marry untitled, impoverished, awkward university student Gerald Wiscombe. He is to receive a commission to fight on the Spanish peninsula, her family is to get free run of Wiscombe Chase, his family home.
Seven years later, heroic Captain Wiscombe returns to the Chase, which has been turned into a kind of gambling den for the aspiring London middle classes by his father-in-law and brother-in-law. He and Lillian have not been in contact for years, ever since he was congratulated by his comrades for becoming a father – an impossibility, as he and Lillian never consummated their marriage. Now he wants to revenge on his wife for her infidelity, and to turn out her bastard and the rest of her unsavory family. Lillian knows she will be penniless if Gerry throws her out, and she despises her family’s schemes and cronies anyway, so to his surprise she swears she is on his side in all matters and will assist him in reclaiming what is his.
So the novel is about how that uneasy alliance turns into something more, how Gerry handles his unwelcome guests, and how he deals with young Stewart, whom everybody assumes to be his son. Gerry’s methods of getting rid of his “guests” are quite funny. He and Lillian and are almost instantly attracted, and for the first time actually get to know each other. While their feelings grow, Stewart and what is to happen to him throws a huge cloud over their possible happiness. The solution here is moving without getting sentimental and one that I have not come across before in an historical romance. But what really had me sitting with my mouth open was what happens to the main villain. That scene alone made reading the novel worthwhile. On the other hand, I was not quite convinced about how Lillian suddenly grows a backbone, which is sadly lacking for about two thirds of the novel. It’s understandable considering her situation, but it made identifying with her difficult at times.
All in all The Secrets of Wiscombe Chase is an entertaining read, and Christine Merrill firmly remains on my autobuy list.