A Talent for Trouble
A Talent for Trouble is charming enough, but this bubbly trad Regency does not break any new ground, and begs the question as to why, fifteen years after it was originally released by Signet Regency, it has been republished in hardcover format for nearly $40. Apart from the format of the book, the story started out well – the theme of valuing women’s work and women’s opinions surfaced several times and the author handled it with unexpected verve. However, an unfortunate suspense sub-plot intruded halfway through and left me with confused expectations.
Lady Talitha Burnside is a gifted artist, trained since her youth by her neighbor, a famous but now retired caricaturist. She is returning to London several years after her first unsuccessful Season to begin a career as a caricaturist while living with an old school friend, Cat Thurston, and her husband Richard. On her first day back, much to her dismay, she literally runs into an unfortunate acquaintance on her way into the publishing house, George Mapes and Son, and is reminded of her disastrous debut.
Jonathan, the Viscount Chelmsford, was present when a very young Tally was mocked at her own come-out ball. Jonathan did his best to bolster Tally’s reputation by challenging her not to be a ninny and taking her out to the ballroom floor for a dance. What Jonathan perceived as charity, however, Tally saw as a furtherance of her own humiliation. She is thus less than pleased to run into him as she attempts to start a new life in London.
However, Jonathan and Tally are forced to work around their unfortunate first encounter. Jonathan is a talented and versatile author working on a new satire and only Tally’s clever illustrations will do for the upcoming book. Jonathan and Tally begin meeting regularly at Cat and Richard’s house under the cover of Jonathan’s casual friendship with Richard. The four end up conspiring to hide the identities of the author and illustrator of the serialized novel that is taking the ton by storm.
The first half of the book is fun and frothy with flashes of intriguing depth. Jonathan and Tally slip in and out of the most famous haunts of the male half of the ton in an effort to give Tally the local color she needs to illustrate the exploits of Jonathan’s hapless characters. Jonathan is left rather uncomfortable by his growing feelings for Tally and his growing discomfort with his own fiancé Clea, one of London’s most eligible and seductive widows. Tally struggles with Jonathan’s attempts to protect her and asserts her own talents and desires in the face of a rather large dose of male arrogance. This balance between silly fun and real character development worked well for me. Meanwhile, Cat and Richard are at odds over Richard’s slightly shady relationship with Clea. Cat wants answers but Richard patronizes her with assurances that his encounters with Clea are completely innocent.
Throughout the book I was left with a thirst for more details, more color, and more time with these characters. This is a credit to the originality of Tally and Jonathan and their unusual professions. They are each interesting in their own right and Jonathan’s confusion over his relationships with Tally and Clea was, if not original, at least amusing. The tone of the first half of the book reminded me of the teen movies I love (think Sixteen Candles or She’s All That) where the boy who has everything, including the popular girl, is confused by his attraction to the mousy, smart-alecky girl.
Despite its attractions, however, A Talent for Trouble is ultimately consumed by too many glossed-over plot points. As Jonathan and Tally explored the gaudy and dangerous side of society, I wanted more descriptions of the people and places they satirized. This never came to pass as a sudden suspense sub-plot halfway through the book ate up the remaining page count and left me with an even sketchier sense of people and places. This is unfortunate as the characters and their relationships were interesting – but the suspense plot was not. Had the book been reissued as originally published, at paperback price, I believe I would have dealt with the rush through the plot with more equanimity, but my generosity decreased as the price increased.