A View to a Kiss
I picked up A View to a Kiss by Caroline Linden because I was expecting something like James Bond in the Regency. I like the dry humor of the (old) James Bond movies, and this sounded like it could be a fun read.
Harry Sinclair is a working spy, not simply an aristocrat taking off some time from gambling and looking after his estate. As a commoner of no fortune, he earns his living by spying for the government and hopes to win patronage for a future political career. At the moment, his assigment is watching Lords Doncaster and Crane, two peers influential in politics who may be the target of an assassin’s attack. In order to keep an eye on them, during daytime Harry works as Crane’s secretary, and at night he attends various festivities in the guise of old Lord Wroth. He shares a dingy house in an unfashionable part of town with three other spies who work with him. I liked that set-up very much indeed. I wanted to find out how Harry goes about gathering information, and I was intrigued by the other spies, of whose work we only get glimpses.
During the first important ball of the season, Harry in the guise of Lord Wroth first beholds Lady Mariah Dunmore, Lord Doncaster’s only daughter. She is twenty-three and very beautiful, and spent the last few years in Paris and Vienna with her parents. Harry falls in love on the spot, and is delighted when he can exchange a few words with Lady Mariah on the dark balcony, where she can’t see his disguise. Lady Mariah, it turns out, is bored with English men. She is delighted to engage in a little flirtation with the unknown gentleman on the balcony, and, in true heroine fashion, determines to find out who he is.
Harry knows Mariah is entirely beyond his reach, but he can resist her appeal so little that the next night, he climbs up to her window and pays her a visit in her bedroom. They talk a little, but then Harry leaves quickly, because he must not let matters go too far. Mariah, in her turn, feels so fascinated by the stranger that not only does she try to prevent his leaving, she encourages repeat visits and spends a lot of time giggling and squealing with her cousin about her unknown admirer.
And here’s where the author lost me for a time. Mariah is supposed to be twenty-three and experienced in going out in society, and yet she reacts like an oversexed teenager. In fact, she reminded me very much of Lydia Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. She only thinks of the adventure, has no fears whatsoever for her person (or chastity, or reputation), and a visitor who comes to her bedroom at night and refuses to divulge his name does not set off any alarm. Interestingly enough, while reading this I kept thinking I would have bought Mariah’s and Harry’s improvident actions far more easily had they been younger – say, 16 and 21 as opposed to 23 and almost 30. As it is, I found myself so disgusted with Mariah’s utter lack of brains that I put the book aside and didn’t pick it up again for three weeks.
I am glad I did pick it up again, because the book improves mightily in the second half. Harry, after almost compromising his assignment because of his fascination with Mariah, acts cautiously again, and Mariah does some growing up. They spend less time together, but this reader thought their short and furtive encounters much more romantic than the daringly flirtatious ones in Mariah’s bedroom – there is a tenderness, a caring for the other’s welfare that was missing earlier.
The mystery also returns to center stage, and leads to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. The novel’s ending brings two surprises, one that I thought lovely, another that was just a touch too deus ex machina for my taste, but which still served well under the circumstances.
So I ended up enjoying A View to a Kiss after all. For me, the more muted and mystery-oriented second half worked better than the first, but if you delight in characters that throw caution into the wind because they are overcome by passion, you will probably like like it even more than I did. Anyway, in spite of some reservations I will be on the lookout for its sequel, hopefully about one of Harry’s spy colleagues.