A Clandestine Courtship
One characteristic that I’ve always enjoyed about the Regency Romance is its wit and light-heartedness – those same characteristics that make Jane Austen’s books such a delight to read. A Regency Romance lacking these qualities is not half so fun to read, and that is the problem with A Clandestine Courtship by Allison Lane.
James Underwood, Earl of Ridgeway, has returned home to assume the duties left to him after the murder of his twin brother, John. One of those duties is to unmask his brother’s killer, although John was such a vile creature I’m surprised anyone would want to bring his murderer to justice. Almost immediately upon his return home, James encounters the former Mary Layton, now Lady Northrup – the girl that got away. Mary has never gotten over James and his arrival throws all of her senses into an uproar. She can’t help but fear for his safety – what if John’s murderer sees him? Since he is the spitting image of the dead man, someone might attempt to take his life as well.
Not only does a black cloud seem to hang over James’s head, but he’s got a murder mystery on his hands. Now, a little mystery belongs in the Regency era almost as much as a good charade, but this mystery is a little darker than most Regency romps. In fact, the whole book is quite a bit darker than a typical Regency. The murder investigation almost overshadows the romance – which lacks the wit and banter of most traditional Regencies. The happy ending seems almost out of place when it finally comes. This book would have been much better if Lane had made a full length historical out of it. The reader would be better prepared for the heavier plot and darker, tormented characters. A little sensuality would have lightened the mood and made for a wonderful, sexy historical. Instead, I found the book almost depressing.
I also spent the first few chapters very confused. First, the author threw three ‘J’ names at the reader at once. I had the hardest time keeping John, James and Justin straight, especially when Mary was preparing for Justin’s homecoming in the early pages of the book – I assumed he was the hero, then remembered he wasn’t, then thought he was the twin, then realized the twin was dead – you get the picture. Not only did the names throw me, but the opening scenes didn’t flow together well at all. I found myself wondering how much time had passed, or trying to figure out if the author had back-tracked. By the time I got everything figured out, I was tired of reading.
I was quite disappointed by this book, but not because it was a horrible story. It just was not a good plot for a traditional Regency. A dark plot such as this one would have been much better suited to a longer historical format. I have no doubt Lane could have easily stretched the story over 300 plus pages, making for a much more fulfilling read.