Desert Isle Keeper
Beauty and the Spy
With her first book, The Runaway Duke, Julie Ann Long showed she could take an oft-told story and make it her own. She does it again with Beauty and the Spy, the first in a new trilogy. Yes, Kit Whitelaw, Viscount Grantham the hero of this book is yet another Regency era spy, but don’t worry, he doesn’t belong to a dilettante spy club. Kit is the real thing.
Richard Lockwood, a member of Parliament, fell deeply in love with Anna Holt, an opera dancer. She returned his love, but because her scandalous past would have cost him his position, they never married. Instead, he installed her and their three little daughters in a house in the small village of Gorringe where he visited her often. Despite their unorthodox arrangement, they were very happy. Then one night, Richard’s good friend James Makepeace burst in to tell Anna that Richard had been murdered. They both knew that Thaddeus Morley, a fellow MP whom Richard had suspected of selling secrets to the French had arranged the murder, and Morley had cleverly arranged the deed so that it looked like Anna had been the killer She fled abroad, leaving her daughters with James.
James found homes for two of the girls, but kept Susannah and raised her as his daughter. As the story begins, Susannah is a beautiful and charming young lady, happily engaged to the son of a marquis. Her life seems to be perfect. But her perfect life is shattered when James is killed by robbers. His solicitor informs her that James left no money and lots of debts, but she can have a home in London if she’ll “entertain” him a couple of times a week. Revolted, Susannah refuses. When she goes to her fiance for comfort, he breaks off the engagement. Just when things look their worst, James’s sister offers Susannah a home with her in her little cottage in Gorringe. Although she has never been out of London, Susannah gratefully accepts.
In the meantime, Kit Whitelaw, Viscount Grantham is being called on the carpet by his father the Earl of Westphall. Kit is a spy for the Crown and has been sniffing around Member of Parliament Thaddeus Morley, whom he suspects of selling secrets to the French. Kit is also a hothead involved with a married woman, he’s been drinking too much, and and his father fears he is getting too reckless. So the earl sends his son to a small estate in the village of Gorringe, with orders to write a folio on the flora and fauna of the area.
Kit and Susannah meet one morning when she sees him swimming naked in the pond. Susannah is a talented artist and sketches him, to his momentary discomforture, but they soon establish a working relationship. Kit hires Susannah to illustrated his folio and she and her aunt are happy to get the money. On their nature walks, strange things begin to happen to Susannah, and it’s evident that someone is trying to harm her – perhaps even kill her. Well, Kit is a spy after all, and he begins to investigate.
Beauty and the Spy has a complex plot that is handled deftly. Just when I wondered if the author had lost track of a plot thread, it showed up and fit into place perfectly. The pacing kept me turning the pages and I spent a snowy afternoon curled up in a comfy chair happily reading.
What made this book so memorable were the characters. Both Kit and Susannah were bursting with charm and intelligence and their slow drawing together is sexual tension at its finest. It turns out that Kit and Susannah’s pasts were both marked by the machinations of Thaddeus Morley and he is a very memorable character. Morley is no cardboard villain who is evil just to be evil. He has a past that has shaped him and made him the man he is today. I couldn’t forgive him his treachery, but I understood why he did what he did. All the minor characters were memorable, there wasn’t a wallpaper character among them.
Don’t let the Regency spy aspect of this book put you off. Kit is not a member of The Boy’s Club With A Cool Name. He actually works for the Crown and goes about his business in a believable manner. He doesn’t skulk around back alleys while twirling his cape and making sure his mask is in place. He actually interviews people and puts the pieces of the puzzle together. Most refreshing.
I’ve enjoyed both of Julie Anne Long’s books and Beauty and the Spy puts her firmly on my auto-buy list. I highly recommend this book and urge you not to let this treasure remain a buried one.