A Good Duke is Hard to Find
Spoiler alert: a good duke is hard to find, and you won’t find one in A Good Duke Is Hard to Find, the lack of which is the straw that breaks the back of this exhausted camel. Er… book.
Peter Ashford is an Englishman born, but American made, having become a successful Boston businessman after leaving his home country years before. Now he’s returned, heir to a dukedom held by his dying uncle, whom Peter hates for denying his sick mother assistance before her untimely death. His plan is to inherit the dukedom and then intentionally run it into the ground to avenge himself and his mother. But he made a promise to his mother on her deathbed that he would spend some time with their relatives, which is how he ends up on the Isle of Synne visiting his aunt, Lady Tesh, and crosses paths with Lenora Hartley. Lenora has lost three fiancés, either to death or other women. Her first fiancé, Hillram, was part of the family of Lady Tesh, and they’ve kept a metaphorical place at the table for her since. Lenora however, is full of “guilt” over the death of Hillram. I didn’t realize quite how much death there is in this book until I saw how many times I’d typed the word in this paragraph. . . Anyway, Peter and Lenora have some fairly immediate mutual chemistry.
Peter’s future title is Duke of Dane, but if I had the authority to bestow titles, I would dub him Peter Ashford, Duke of Petulance, Marquess of Improperly Managed Anger, and a member of the Order of Men Who Should Never Marry. At one point he says
“I’m not right for her. I’m too rough, a brute, an uncultured swine who brawls with men in public. She would be miserable with me.”
I agree wholeheartedly. Peter is in a bad mood for the entire book, and I honestly tense up at the thought of being forced to spend my life with someone capable of such sullenness in the face of good friends, wealth, and prospects. He has zero sense of humor and a violent streak: when ribbed about his enjoyment of sugar, Peter “looked ready to dive across the table and pummel his friend senseless” and later on he does actually hit his friend Quincy when Quincy calls him out. I think Peter’s supposed to be charming and funny in a Beauty and the Beast sort of way but he really isn’t. And I say this as someone who enjoys an uncultured-swine hero.
Lenora isn’t much better. Her guilt is – surprise! – totally unfounded and easily resolved, in the grand tradition of most romance progatonist guilt. The poor thing admits that Peter “could so thoroughly send her brain packing for parts unknown with one look” – or one lick, it would seem, as she’s also quite partial to his cunnilingus. One can only hope that will sustain her through her marriage to Peter. But don’t get your hopes up – reading about the cunnilingus won’t sustain you. The description isn’t a third as enjoyable as the experience is for Lenora.
The writing is predictable and obvious. There’s an on-the-nose subplot about a Great Love Legend related to the Isle of Synne which made me cringe. And when Lenora releases her guilt in the last act she literally releases it: she sketches Hillram and lets the drawings fly off “on the wind, twisting and dancing in the air” in flagrant disregard for the environment. The only well-articulated part of the story is Lenora and Peter’s chemistry (but not their actual sexual encounters, see above).
My fellow reviewer Maggie mentioned in her recent review of Mexican Gothic that the setting wasn’t a place to get trapped in quarantine. Neither is the Isle of Synne, and definitely not with this duke or this book.