A Merry Chase
I can tell what I think of a book I’ve just finished reading by counting the number of page corners I’ve turned over, because that’s how I mark places where something happened to jar me out of the story. The fewer the folder-over pages, the better. Unhappily, there are lots of them in my copy of A Merry Chase. A text rife with minor but irritating grammatical mistakes and anachronisms of speech, to say nothing of a fundamental error in research, marred an engaging plot that had me smiling more than once.
Logical, cool Royce Van Cleef, Earl of Tewksbury, accepts a bet from his friends that he can successfully apply the rules of fox hunting to catching a bride. He even lets them choose the woman he’s to pursue, Lady Laurel Simmons, the daughter of the Earl of Sewley. Royce goes along with them, secure in the knowledge that Laurel is everything he could want in his countess: beautiful, charming, and intelligent. This should be easy, he thinks, and sets out to win the bet.
A few years back, Laurel was the subject of ton gossip, when her betrothal to Archibald Devens was abruptly terminated. Everybody thinks Laurel cried off, but the truth of it is that Archie, having come into a small fortune, decided he no longer needed Laurel or, more importantly, her money. Since then she’s held herself aloof – until a stranger walks up to her in a crowded ballroom and snatches her up for a dance, not introducing himself or even speaking more than a few words before he leaves. Intrigued, Laurel learns he’s the charming Earl of Tewksbury, and unwittingly begins to soften toward him.
Royce’s friends, meanwhile, think this game is too easy for him, so they make certain the news will get back to Laurel about the wager. She is enraged and decides to play a few games of her own, and then the hunt is on, with the prey becoming the hunter. A few more twists and turns, including the unexpected return of Archie, now out of money, and someone who will go to great lengths to keep Royce and Laurel apart, make for a quick read.
Except there were things that just kept pulling me out of the story. The first and most consistently annoying error is a basic one having to do with titles of nobility. Royce is the Earl of Tewksbury, and would thus be Lord Tewksbury, not Lord Van Cleef. As well, his friends would refer to him as Tewksbury, not Van Cleef. The same mistake occurs in reference to Laurel’s father – he’s Percy Simmons, Lord Sewley, not Lord Simmons. This was not just an occasional instance of error; it happened so often that I gave up folding page corners over. Jo Beverley has written a clear, easy-to-follow article on this very subject (it can be linked to from our Historical Cheat Sheet); I would urge any writer thinking of peopling her story with nobles to look at it.
Another stumbling block for me was the grammar, which may be more telling of the sad state of the art of copy-editing these days than anything else. But what really made my teeth gnash were some of the anachronisms. “Look at the bright side,” “Just try me,” “None of this has been about me,” “the idea of you and me together” – those phrases strike me as being more at home in a contemporary romance than a historical set in the Regency. My favorite is when one of the characters, trying to keep Royce from coming to a hasty conclusion about the plot against Laurel, says, “Whoa.” And speaking of anachronisms and faulty research, there’s a scene where Lord Sewley takes Laurel to Tattersall’s, the famous horse-auction house. A woman would have been just as welcome there as she would have been sitting in the bow window at White’s – which is to say, not at all.
In spite of these glitches, the book has some strong points. The plotting and characterization are well done, and if you can get past the too-modern speech, Royce and Laurel share some witty dialogue. Laurel is for the most part pretty levelheaded, and Royce performs a satisfying grovel at the end. A Merry Chase reminded me of Julie Garwood’s Regency-set historicals; if you like her books, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too.