A Marriage Made in Scandal
This ninth book in Elisa Braden’s Rescued from Ruin takes place around six years after book seven, (Confessions of a Dangerous Lord), and revisits the members of the Huxley family. A number of events that took place in that book are referenced here – principally the crimes committed by the hero’s mother and the resultant fallout – so this probably isn’t the ideal book to pick up if you haven’t read any of the other books in the series. A Marriage Made in Scandal is a very readable novel that combines a friends-to-lovers romance with an intriguing mystery, but even though I liked quite a few things about it, there are things I didn’t that prevent me from recommending it.
One of those things is the way the story opens. Lady Eugenia Huxley is the daughter of an earl, but when we first encounter her she is working in a far from exclusive hat shop in one of the less salubrious areas of London. Anyone who reads historicals regularly will immediately recognise the incongruity of the idea of an earl’s daughter working for a living. As I read on I learned that a couple of years previously Eugenia – Genie – had caused a massive scandal by being caught in flagrante delicto with a footman and so I thought, “okay, so she disgraced herself and her family threw her out. That makes more sense.” Except – no. Not only did her family not disown her, she still lives at the family home in Mayfair! It’s said early on that Genie’s disgrace has naturally affected her younger sister’s marital prospects, that Genie no longer goes out in society and that she is still whispered about – but she lives at home? And goes to work every day? I didn’t buy it. There are occasions when I can roll my eyes at a set up and move on, but not this time. Ms. Braden is a good writer and I’m sure she could have come up with another way to have Genie be the family scandal without resorting to something so implausible.
Anyway. While working in said downmarket hat shop, Genie runs in to Phineas Brand, Lord Holstoke, who, years earlier, had been courting her sister Maureen. Phineas is a rigidly controlled young man whose mother (this isn’t a spoiler, as it happened in a previous book) was revealed to have been a murderess, having killed Phineas’ father and numerous others. That was six years ago, and society still views Phineas with caution, which is making his search for a suitable bride difficult, to say the least. And it’s made even more difficult when a young woman is murdered – poisoned using methods and poisons known to have been favoured by Phineas’ mother – and several more killings ensue in quick succession. It seems someone is out to implicate Phineas in the murders, and when Genie impulsively steps in to provide him with an alibi, it’s the last straw for her father, who makes it clear he expects Phineas to marry her. And in the meantime, the murder sub-plot picks up steam. The deaths seem random and there’s no way of knowing how, where or whom the poisoner will strike next, and Phineas greatly fears that by marrying Genie, he has placed her firmly in the killer’s sights.
Genie is vibrant, outspoken and, Phineas often thinks, blithely irresponsible, yet he can’t seem to stop noticing her and is drawn to her in spite of himself. Genie thinks Phineas is a cold, un-knowable man, but finds herself fascinated by him… which she can’t be because she’s frigid. I had to ask myself if a well-born lady at a time when ladies weren’t supposed to know about anything that went on below the waist would have known and understood the term… but anyway, she thinks she’s frigid, even though Phineas has practically reduced her to a puddle of goo by asserting his husbandly rights. Several times. I can only assume Genie comes out with that statement in order to let readers know that in spite of the footman scandal (which is explained in the second half), she isn’t some sort of strumpet because she doesn’t actually like kissing… and stuff.
The mystery portion of the novel is intriguing and I found myself quite caught up in it at times, and the marriage of convenience is a favourite trope. The author creates a strong pull of attraction between Genie and Phineas, who is one of those tightly buttoned types who turns out to be a sex god between the sheets ;), but overall the romance is underdeveloped. Because Phineas and Genie have known – at least been aware of – each other for years, we’re asked to believe theirs is an attraction of long-standing, but there is little romantic progression; they realise they find each other attractive, they’re forced to marry, they shag each other’s brains out at every available opportunity, Phineas puts his foot in his mouth and causes the obligatory Big Mis… while I generally enjoyed their interactions, I often found the mystery more compelling.
As a character, Phineas is more well-defined than Genie, who is one of those irrepressibly bubbly heroines who gets herself into scrapes with the best of intentions, and who always has a smile and a perky response to everything. In some ways, that’s an admirable quality, but I suspect being around someone who acts like Tigger on acid all the time would eventually become rather wearing; and most of the time, she feels more like a blueprint for a rebellious heroine than a fully-rounded character. Phineas’ backstory is tragic and his childhood has obviously – and unsurprisingly – affected him deeply, but I found his constant referral to “the blackness” that he is at continual pains to push away but which sometimes envelops him to be overly melodramatic. I soon realised that the author was using this as a kind of shorthand for Phineas’ more visceral emotions and his need to control them – something Genie picks up on easily and immediately and without any specialist knowledge whatsoever – but still, it’s overdone.
Also overdone are some aspects of the murder plotline, most notably the short inserts that appear early on which are told from the PoV of the poisoner who really does just need a cape and twirly moustache to be the perfect cartoon villain.
I dithered over the final grade for A Marriage Made in Scandal, because while I had a number of issues with the book, it’s nonetheless – as I said at the beginning – very readable. If you’re following the series and have enjoyed the other instalments, then I suspect you’ll find something to enjoy here, but there were too many bumps along the way for me to give it an overall recommendation.