Desert Isle Keeper
A Lady's Code of Misconduct
I find that when we speak of romance, it’s easy to fall into judging a book based on whether or not we think the main characters are nice people with whom we would actually want to spend time. I’ve long admired Meredith Duran’s writing for challenging me on this. She is one of those authors who consistently writes characters who are sometimes unlikable, but whose stories are compellingly told. In A Lady’s Code of Misconduct, readers’ opinions of Crispin Burke and to a lesser degree, Jane Mason, will likely evolve quite a bit over the course of the story. And what a complex, deeply engaging story it is.
Don’t be fooled by the elegant lady in Regency attire on the book’s cover; the publisher’s art department apparently didn’t notice that the story takes place during the fall and winter of 1860. The book opens as Crispin Burke awakens, weak and disoriented, in his parents’ house. He feels quite confused by his surroundings and the presentation to him of one Jane, who appears to be his wife, simply adds to his muddle.
From this dramatic moment, we quickly flash back to actions of a few months prior, and learn that Crispin is an MP. He is not just any MP, but a singularly ruthless man bent on upending Palmerston’s government and becoming the next Prime Minister. We learn, too, that his purported wife Jane is the niece of one of Crispin’s closest allies in Parliament. Her uncle’s control of Jane’s large inheritance seemingly has allowed the uncle to greatly improve his standard of living while his stern control and isolation of Jane has reduced her to a miserable life of mockery and ostracism. Though readers get only a brief glimpse into the interactions between Crispin and Mason, it’s enough to make one see that the two really are corrupt and horrid. And yet, even at this point, there’s a hint of interesting tension between Crispin and Jane.
So, what initially brings Jane and Crispin together? There are two disastrous events that set the plot in motion. First of all, Jane gets control of her inheritance upon marriage and so her aunt and uncle essentially force her into an engagement with their son. Pending the wedding, they watch Jane like a hawk and keep her cloistered which makes it very difficult for her to plot an escape. Jane seizes her chance upon learning of an attack upon Crispin Burke. Left in a coma following a serious head injury, Jane obtains a fake marriage certificate figuring that she can then gain control of her inheritance and live independently once Crispin does the expected thing and dies.
Any romance reader knows what will happen next. Of course Crispin isn’t going to die. However, when he wakes, he has partial amnesia. Jane realizes this early on even though most around Crispin do not. What ensues ends up being a beautiful romance that shows a true and deep partnership between hero and heroine.
It’s apparent from the initial scenes between Jane and Crispin that something in him has changed. It’s almost as if years of a hard, cynical career have been stripped away, leaving behind perhaps the essence of who Crispin was before family pressure and lust for power changed him. Jane initially doesn’t trust in Crispin’s kindness, a wariness that makes perfect sense. However, as he shows himself to be genuinely a decent man, Jane finds herself warming to this gallant ‘husband’ and an affectionate friendship quickly blossoms as Crispin recovers from his injuries.
Crispin can remember his family and his earlier years; it’s his Parliamentary career that remains somewhat hazy. This is where Jane can shine. She grew up in a political household and even though her uncle shoved her off to the side, she was still in a position to observe what happened in his home. She knows about the alliance between Crispin and her uncle, and she’s familiar with pending bills and the important issues of the day. When Crispin learns that he is in fact the author of a penal bill he now finds repugnant, he relies upon Jane to help him now ensure that the bill does not pass. This naturally leads to high political drama, and for once, I really did enjoy seeing this political issue grow and take over the book. Politics are so central to the lives of both characters that through their conversations and work on the penal bill, their growing mutual attraction takes on a compelling depth as their meeting of the minds leads to near-seamless teamwork. The physical and emotional sides of the romantic relationship are definitely present and well done here, but the pairing of intellects is an aspect I found especially sexy.
One of the things that really drew me in with this book was the feeling of freshness about it. This isn’t a story of one person pursuing another. The attraction in this case is most definitely mutual. Crispin, believing himself to have a valid marriage even if he cannot remember it, finds himself quite in love with his bride and it seems the most natural feeling in the world to him. Given the stresses his memory issues cause him, Jane quickly becomes a true constant in his life and he lets himself depend on her in many ways.
For Jane, things are more fraught. After all, she knows that her marriage certificate is forged and she knows what went on before Crispin’s injury. She certainly has started to fall for the man he has become during his recovery but she also worries about what will happen if he gets his memory back. Will he renounce her? Will she somehow find herself shackled to the old, cruel Crispin? The journey through these issues makes for an incredible reading experience and by the end, all that the characters shared made them appear truly and deeply bonded to one another.
This book goes far deeper into political issues and emotional issues than the average, and I admire Duran for taking us there. A Lady’s Code of Misconduct is thoughtfully written and the story creates not just a simple story of two people but an entire world for them to inhabit. If you like your historicals to have some meat to them, I highly recommend this one.