A Lady of Distinction
I had high hopes for this book after an engaging beginning. But a loss of momentum in the middle and an interesting yet extremely rushed ending render Deborah Simmons’ A Lady of Distinction my most disappointing read thus far for 2004.
Lady Juliet Cavendish is an Egyptian scholar even though she is a woman. Her father, the Earl of Carlisle, has a large collection of artifacts, and Juliet is his personal expert when he acquires new items. In the most recent shipment, Juliet finds something unexpected: a sleeping man. A large, scruffy, attractive man. When Juliet wakes him up and he rudely disregards her orders for him to leave, and then informs her he is there to put the collection in order with the earl’s Egyptian expert, she is appalled.
Morgan Beauchamp is just as appalled as Juliet. He is unhappy to find himself working with a woman and, worse, a lady, as he has no love lost for the aristocracy. Morgan hides his own deep passion for Egypt behind an adventurer’s façade, but he is deeply concerned about the artifacts he has appropriated for the earl.
Morgan and Juliet spark and argue right away. But Morgan notices that with the other men in her life, the earl and Sir Cyril Lyndhurst, another scholar, Juliet is entirely different, meek and unassuming. Morgan finds himself unexpectedly attracted to Juliet, and enjoys their intellectual confrontations, as he has never expected intelligence from a vapid society miss.
The plot begins to take a wrong turn when Lyndhurst (who Morgan incessantly refers to as “the coxcomb” throughout the entire book) begins to make noises about a “curse” over the artifacts. Lyndhurst is a one-note character, the annoyingly “superior” intellectual; he believes he has deciphered one of the hieroglyphs, which he claims states “Beware! Death to follow!”, etc. Juliet and Morgan are rightly skeptical. However, as incidents of missing items and injured servants begin to occur, Juliet loses some of her own amazing intelligence and wonders if there could indeed be a curse.
This plot line drags on through the middle of the book, throws the entire household into an uproar and brings Morgan’s protective instincts into play as the incidents become increasingly violent, and Morgan suspects someone close to Juliet is involved in nefarious activities.
All this leads to a trip to Egypt, which was a great deal more interesting, but unfortunately extremely rushed and almost skimmed over. This is a most interesting part of the book, but it’s presented in such a rushed way it’s almost an afterthought, which I found very disappointing.
There is no surprise in the unveiling of the final villain, and with a ridiculous plot contrivance involving Morgan at the very end, the book concluded on a low note for me. This was a shame since I loved Morgan’s character, who reminded me somewhat of a favorite of my heroes – Indiana Jones. Although Juliet was continually described as intelligent, she seemed to conveniently lose her brains in a large number of situations. For a sheltered, gentle lady, she also ended up accidentally conversing with Morgan in his bedroom frequently, which was certainly unbelievable considering the era.
There were enjoyable moments in this novel, but they were unfortunately overshadowed by the unbelievable elements, and with the addition of some wooden secondary characters, the story lost its shine. Sadly, I certainly didn’t find anything of distinction here. If you’re looking for an absorbing Egyptian tale or a rousing romantic adventure, try elsewhere instead.