Desert Isle Keeper
Always a Scoundrel
The last time I gave a DIK to Suzanne Enoch, it was London’s Perfect Scoundrel, about a seriously bad boy scoundrel (duh) who falls for a proper lady and rescues her from her uncaring, exploitative family. Now, normally when I encounter repeat plots I start thinking the author’s run out of juice, but when the book is a) significantly different from the last one, and b) damn good, you forget the similarities, stop nitpicking, and just enjoy the ride.
Lord Bramwell Johns, Notorious Gentleman, is Bored. His friends are now cooing in their cotes (see previous Notorious Gentlemen), so to relieve his restlessness he burgles the ton as the Black Cat, pisses off his family, and takes up with his old mentor in decadence, the Marquis of Cosgrove. One night during an impromptu burglary he overhears the owners of the house discussing a transaction. The commodity is their daughter, and the buyer is Cosgrove.
Lady Rosamund Davies has been the unseen and unthanked family organizer for as long as she can remember (she resets the clocks so the various family members will be ready at the same time), but even when her brother James gambles away ten thousand pounds to Cosgrove she still can’t believe her family would arrange her marriage to a stranger simply to pay off James’s debts. But although she resents them, she cannot forgo what she believes to be her duty, and even though Cosgrove makes her skin crawl she decides to make the best of the situation – until she meets Bram.
Bram and Rose together are simply delicious. So many authors try to establish a connection between the hero and heroine, and many have to resort to telling rather than showing; I needed no convincing that Bram and Rose are, unequivocally, meant to be. Superficially the characters are no different from a thousand and one other rake-meets-virgin plots. Yes, Bram is a true scoundrel and makes no bones of his depraved past, and yes, within is a good man who just needs the love of a good woman. Yes, Rose is a conventional, filial virgin who (yes) finds herself attracted to this black-eyed, black-haired rogue. But they are also such friends. They talk to each other. They laugh and bandy words together. They try to become better people, but they also hold to their principles and respect the other. And their sizzling attraction leaps off the page. Both need to be saved from internal as well as external problems, and it was a pleasure to see Rose slowly open up, and Bram slowly reform; I had no trouble believing in their happily-ever-after. In truth (and I don’t say this lightly), Bram and Rose are the most realistic, most fun, most vivid, and truest couple I’ve seen depicted in Romance Land since I met Eve and Roarke.
The host of secondary characters fill their roles well, if not extraordinarily, and it was nice that with one exception, the previous couples do not appear to merely gratify readers – they are part of Bram’s world, not the Notorious Gentlemen one, and that makes all the difference. The Marquis of Cosgrove was a suitably evil villain without being e-e-e-e-e-e-e-vil (quoting some fellow reviewers), and I was properly impressed with his outcome – I would not want Bram as an enemy. And I was glad that the plot progressed logically with nary a deus ex machina in sight. On the down side, the book dragged just the teeniest weensiest bit two-thirds of the way through, and I suspect the author still clings to some old stylistic habits that don’t fit with the witty, engaging voice she has created here, and that threw me off when they popped up. (Oh, and F triple minus to whoever thought up yet another generic Regency title – honestly, what do you get paid for?) Clearly, however, none of this marred my enjoyment of the novel, which is quite a bit darker than what I remember her previous ones to be, but which also demonstrates an ease and fluidity of prose that makes the story soar.
My interest in the Enoch universe waned somewhere in the middle of the Sin series, but I’m amazed how much she’s grown as an author since then. Ms. Enoch used to get a bit of grief from the reading public, many of whom saw her as a Julia Quinn wannabe, but if there were any doubts left this novel should eradicate them completely. Somewhere in the past few books she came into her own, and if she hasn’t already established a permanent fan base and gotten some new devotees, Always a Scoundrel should do the trick; it is past time she gets the recognition she deserves.