A Hint of Scandal
A Hint of Scandal is unlikely to create any strong emotions either way. It’s not the type of book one raves about, but neither is it one that causes the reader to recoil in horror. The main feeling it evokes is one of sameness; you’ve likely seen every plot point in the book many times before.
Arabella is shocked to be awakened in the middle of the night by her brother Tommy, who informs her that there is a half-dead man on a horse, right outside their front door. Arabella and Tommy manage to get the man off his horse and into her bed, where they remove a bullet from his shoulder and nurse him for days. He is in a fever-induced delirium and can’t even give Arabella his name. He’s actually the Duke of Westlake (Alex), and he was shot as he rushed to his supposedly-ill nephew’s bedside. As he floats in and out of consciousness, he hears a soothing voice that comforts him and makes recovery seem possible. Arabella can’t help but be attracted to her handsome patient, who she decides must be both a gentleman and a rake.
The first part of the book is essentially a sickroom romance, with Alex mostly feverish and unaware, but nonetheless attractive. Eventually he recovers enough to talk to Arabella and get to know her, and he comes to appreciate her finer qualities. After Alex is well enough to travel, the book enters phase two: the marriage-in-trouble period. Due to the machinations of Arabella’s well-meaning cousin Triss, Arabella and Alex unknowingly spend the night alone in a house together, and are forced to marry. There is an odd shift at this point, as Arabella becomes obsessed with the idea of an annulment and refuses to look beyond that. The remainder of the book plays out like many marriage in trouble stories, with the hero and heroine at loggerheads and several separations and misunderstandings. What it doesn’t have is the one thing you usually do see in marriage-in-trouble stories – love scenes. The single scene that has any kind of romantic vibe ends abruptly when cousin Triss comes knocking on the bedroom door.
You may not have read this book before, but you’ve doubtless read dozens of others like it. Something with a wounded hero who hates being confined to the bed, and a bluestocking heroine who has been told to hide her brains. You’ve also seen a couple forced to marry and a heroine who believes it can never work out, even after the fact. Oh, and then there’s the not-so-suspenseful suspense plot as the hero tries to figure out who shot him. This is the type of mystery that will keep you guessing for about five minutes, as the solution is about as surprising as the one in the average Scooby Doo episode. If I had to choose one word to nail down my reading experience, I’d pick “shopworn.” It’s perfectly possible to take a time-worn element and make it your own. I’ve loved books with heroes who have been shot and I’ve loved books with shotgun weddings. This adds nothing new to the mix, and just feels like a rehash of all its faceless predecessors, the names of which I forgot as quickly as I’ll be forgetting A Hint of Scandal.
Other than the “same old, same old” problem, it isn’t a terrible book. The writing has some continuity problems – at one point the heroine’s dress changes from blue to pink, kind of like Sleeping Beauty – but one hopes they are fixed in the final copy. The hero and heroine are not unlikable, and Alex’s devotion to Arabella and willingness to put up with her as she fumbles through the early marriage period are kind of sweet.
This is Woodward’s second book, and I could see her getting better with time. I was reminded last night that many authors fumble a bit when they first start out. My book club was discussing Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg, and we were nearly unanimous in our dislike. Yet several of us (including me) had read and enjoyed her later book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café. Sometimes authors just need some time to find their voice and hit their stride. I’ll be happy to check back in with Rhonda Woodward in a few years to see if that’s happened. In the meantime, I’d probably steer clear of this very average – and very familiar – read.