Heiress for Hire
Madeline Hunter’s new series, A Duke’s Heiress, opens with Heiress for Hire, a nicely done combination of romance and cosy mystery in which a young widow is left a large sum of money by a man – a duke, no less – she never met. There’s also a mystery to be solved surrounding the duke’s death – was it due to natural causes or something more sinister? I didn’t realise, when I started the book, that that question would remain unanswered at the end – clearly we’re going to have to wait until the third book for that – but the central characters are likeable and their romance is engaging enough for that not to have been too much of a disappointment.
Having survived an abusive marriage and then narrowly avoided being accused of having had a hand in her husband’s death, Minerva Hepplewhite changed her name and removed to London with her faithful friend and housekeeper Beth and Beth’s son Jeremy. On the night the book opens, Minerva and Beth are hovering over the intruder Minerva has just konked on the head with a warming pan – who eventually manages to introduce himself as Chase Radnor, a gentleman who on occasion conducts discreet enquiries, and to explain that he had not planned on stealing from her, but had been searching for evidence that she is the same Minerva Hepplewhite who has just inherited a fortune from the recently deceased Duke of Hollingburgh. It’s Minerva’s turn to be stunned at that; she never met the duke or anyone connected with him, so to discover that he left her a large sum of money plus a stake in his business that’s worth even more is a complete surprise.
Minerva’s assertion that she has no connection whatsoever to the duke surprises Chase, too. The late duke – who was Chase’s uncle – was widely known as an eccentric who almost never did what was expected of him, but giving away his entire monetary fortune to three ladies nobody within the family has ever heard goes way beyond eccentricity, and Chase has been quietly working on locating the three beneficiaries. His task is complicated still further when, the morning following his… er … meeting with Minerva, he is asked by the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, to conduct a discreet and unofficial enquiry into Hollingburgh’s death to ascertain if it was accidental or if he was murdered – and if so, by whom.
Of course, the most likely suspects should the duke have been murdered would be those who stood to gain most by his death – although suspicions that Minerva Hepplewhite may be the guilty party aren’t the only reasons she hasn’t been far from Chase’s mind since their inauspicious encounter the night before.
The news she is an heiress doesn’t exactly fill Minerva with giddy glee. Establishing her identity, as will be required before she can claim her inheritance, will almost certainly mean digging up aspects of her past she’d hoped to leave behind when she moved and changed her name. As Margaret Finley, she was suspected of the murder of her violent husband – and should that come out, she realises it will only increase speculation as to her involvement in the duke’s death. As she, Beth and Jeremy have already successfully completed a number of enquiries in the past, Minerva decides to tackle things head on and investigate the death herself – if she can identify the culprit, she will be exempt from suspicion. And now she has the means to do so, she decides to set up an enquiry agency of her own, one that will cater to women and other people who are unlikely to be able to access the services of men like Chase Radnor.
Chase and Minerva are likeable, intelligent and well-written, and their romance is based on a solid foundation of mutual respect as well as strong mutual attraction. They converse with good sense and humour, and once they agree to collaborate and share information about the investigation into the duke’s death, they do so without arguing for arguments’ sake or withholding information for the other’s ‘own good’, which I found refreshingly mature. I also appreciated that Minerva, while engaged in an unusual profession for a woman (not to mention the fact that her being engaged in any profession was unusual for the time) isn’t one of those ‘look at how unconventional and awesome I am!!’ heroines that are so prevalent in historical romance these days. She’s perceptive and intuitive, although she does make one rather large miscalculation about the nature of the job she’s doing, which was a bit naïve. But she’s also strong and resilient, and the way she has re-invented herself after the truly horrific abuse she suffered at her late husband’s hands – treatment that could easily have broken her – is admirable.
Chase is perhaps a little less well-rounded, although I liked that he isn’t your usual marriage shy, bored aristocrat, and how perceptive he is when it comes to Minerva. Realising there’s something holding her back from moving their relationship to the next level, he never pushes her and lets her lead the way.
There’s a great secondary cast, consisting mostly of Chase’s disgruntled relatives, all of whom have had their noses put out of joint by the duke’s will and which provides a great pool of possible suspects. On the downside, there’s a lot of set-up, which takes time away from the romance, I wasn’t completely convinced by Minerva’s investigative abilities, and the book doesn’t have a strong sense of period. Apart from the mention of Peel as Home Secretary, which puts events as taking place between 1822 and 1830, the story could have taken place at any point during the nineteenth century. I wasn’t too worried about the central mystery remaining unsolved, although perhaps the blurb should have indicated that – and it’s misleading in another way, because it indicates Minerva and Chase have met before, or at least knew of each other, but it’s pretty clear within the novel that neither of those things is true.
Heiress for Hire wasn’t one of those books that compelled me to pick it up at every opportunity, but it was an entertaining read, and one that is at least mercifully free of overdone mental lusting, feisty heroines and aristocratic gambling hell owners. If you’re looking for a well-written, sensual romance featuring engaging characters who behave like adults, it’s worth a look.
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|Review Date:||April 29, 2020|
|Book Type:||Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||Duke's Heiress series | private investigator | widow|
I began reading MH with her medievals, published in the early 2000s, and really enjoyed them. Have not been as excited by her more recent work; but this sounds fun. Thank you for the review and the comments!
Hunter’s another author who never disappoints me; looking forward to reading this.
As long as the name isn’t Ebenezer. I think Dickens took that one out of the running forever.
Oh, Caroline, that is truly fascinating about Diana Mitford. Can you imagine the conversation around the family table if they had been drinking? It would have been something out of Monty Python.
The Mitford sisters could be supportive of each other, but were often fighting with each other politically (Diane was married to Fascist leader Oswald Mosley and Unity tried to kill herself when England went to war against her hero, Hitler, while Jessica and Nancy were far more liberal/left-wing in their politics). Diana once observed that three of her sisters were so dull because what could you do when the second syllables of their names were Nit (Unity), Sick (Jessica), and Bore (Deborah). Sisterly love indeed.
I liked this better than you. In fact, it might be my favorite Hunt book ever!
I think both characters were well realized, and that their interactions were nicely feisty+flirty+combative+sexy. I especially enjoyed how both come to the story with baggage that helps them see their relationship to each other with a clarity others might not have, but doesn’t sabotage the relationship.
I remember thinking that was an odd name choice for him, but the Hepplewhite had me so preoccupied, I just sort of blew right past it.
So it is a cliff hanger? When I finished reading it, I wasn’t quite sure if Peele made a big reveal or not. It was confusing.
This was a DIK for me, too.
Hepplewhite is a much more believable last name than Chase is as a first name, tbh – that one didn’t trip me up at all. And the cliffie is that we still don’t know who killed the eccentric duke. At the end, Peel decided to close down the investigation, mostly because the murder of a duke would have created too many waves, but there’s no doubt he didn’t die of natural causes. I assume we won’t find out the identity of the killer until book three.
That’s my take on the murder too. I have my suspicions though!
Hepplewhite, like Chippendale is so specific and so famous, unless he were the furniture designer I think it would take me out of the story. They might as well have a character named Duncan Phyfe running around.
Yes, I saw your review on GRs, Em, and was excited. MH is one of the more elegant and thoughtful romance writers and I miss reading her. I stopped for a while because some of her more recent books just didn’t capture my interest, but your review makes me want to go back and try again.
Characters who “converse with good sense” and don’t withhold information – a rare commodity in HR these days! I’m in!
You hit the nail on the head about why I enjoy books by this author. She writes stories about adults who behave like adults and doesn’t tely on instalust to take the place of building the relationship
This book is a DIK for me. It’s one of the best Hunter’s written in a while–I’ve found several of her past novels a little dull. Not this one–it’s sharp, focused, funny, sexy, and both leads are genuinely interesting.
I can’t wait to read the other two books–I like both the heroes AND the overarching mystery.
Ditto all of the above!
Sorry, this lost me at Chase being considered a viable name for a 19th century British male. I’d be grinding my teeth throughout the whole book!
I admit to thinking the same – inappropriate period names are eye-rolling for me, too – but I gave the author the benefit of the doubt and decided it was short for Charles (i.e Chas with an ‘e’ on the end!) I know authors all try to make their characters stand out (in a good way) but the sad truth is that many, many men really WERE called George, William, Henry, Arthur, Albert and all those very traditional names which are, in the UK at least, making something of a comeback. But noblemen called Ethan, Elliot, Jordan etc? Just no.
The book is worth a read though.
The ironic thing is that a hero named George, Arthur, or Albert really WOULD stand out. I don’t think I’ve ever read a George, whereas I couldn’t even begin to count the Nicholases.
Hah! Or Sebastians – there are loads of those!
I agree with everyone here who said these modern names can pull you right out of an HR. I’m giving “Minerva” the benefit of the doubt, but I can tell you this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the name in an HR. And I’ve definitely seen “Chase” too. Ugh on that one…
Besides the fear of choosing an “ordinary” name for the time period, I think a lot of prolific authors are worried about- Heaven forbid- reusing a name for heroes in different stories. If a Regency author has written, say, fifty novels, there would definitely some name overlaps in different stories if she stuck to period appropriate names. Frankly, I think authors should let go of that fear. It’s OKAY to have more than one Charles or George or Albert or whoever across standalone books. Anybody else agree?
Considering that many families will have had many names overlap -and first sons were often named after their fathers , I honestly don’t see the problem in re-using a name in a book after ten years!
This is where I am fine with nicknames.
Let’s say the name is St. George Thomas.
One could be called Saint, one St. George, one Thomas, and one Sin.
The British upper class is also known for nicknaming. There’s no need for the name to come from anywhere logical or be consistent among characters. For instance:
“Take Diana Mitford. No one in her family ever bothered to call her Diana – her mother Sydney called her ‘Dana’; her father David referred to her as ‘Dina’; and… as for her sisters? Nancy preferred to use ‘Bodley’, Pam and Unity coined the name ‘Nardy’, and the youngest, Deborah, the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, called her ‘Honks’. Deborah herself was, of course, known as ‘Debo’ to the world in general, but her sisters’ letters to her at Chatsworth were addressed to ‘Nine’, due to her apparent ‘mental age’. ”
Men were typically called by their last names or titles. Such as Darcy, Bingley or Wickham rather than Fitzwilliam, Charles or George.
Any classical name like Minerva doesn’t bother me in a 19th century story at all. Love of Roman and Roman revival stuff was very popular at the time and it’s a real name that was used for centuries.
It’s true how names go in an out of popularity. Sebastian is an old family name of ours that people wouldn’t touch for the past few generations, now it’s crazy how popular it is. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be appropriate for a historical novel.
That’s a good point about classical names like Minerva, but I do draw the line at Chase. :)
I love Minerva; I stumbled over the Hepplewhite. Although, TBH, I thought it sounded very British & isn’t a name I’ve ever seen in the US. I just wasn’t sure how one goes from Finley to Hepplewhite – but maybe that’s the point! It’s so very different.
Here’s a nice resource for British names. This page lists Georgian names:
Chase isn’t a name that would pull me out of the story for a few reasons. I think there was actually medieval usage of the name Chase, it’s a nickname for “Chauncey” and it sounds like one of those English abbreviations for a longer title. Now a name like Cooper as a titled Englishman’s name surely would, because no aristocratic family would name their child a barrel maker. That just screams modern to me.
“I think there was actually medieval usage of the name Chase.” That doesn’t surprise me. Looking at birth records from the Middle Ages and the years following is a fascinating trip through unusual names. When doing research for a short story I wrote that took place in 1717 England, I lifted the names Godsgift and Barbary from records I found. But I’d question “Chase” a bit more in Regency. Granted, I am not terribly well versed in history, but names seemed to become a bit more standard then, hence all the Georges, Charleses, Alberts, etc. As for “Cooper,” that wouldn’t be a bad name for a working class man that went by his surname. But like you said, definitely not in the aristocracy.
There were lots of Carters so why not Coopers?
They related to menial professions, so I think ChrisReader meant that it was unlikely they’d be adopted as first names by the aristocracy, which makes perfect sense to me.
Godsgift and Barbary were both used in the 17-18th centuries so those are great choices. Particularly if the “Godsgift” character is from a very religious family who is part of one of the more austere Protestant sects. It’s the kind of name you would also see in New England anytime from the late 17th century into the 19th century. People who hailed from that good old Puritan stock loved bible names like Hezekiah and “”virtue” names like ” Resolve” and “Fear-the-Lord”.
I remember several years ago Elizabeth Hoyt named one of her heroines who was brought up in a strict religious family “Silence” (the older sister in a previous book was “Temperance”) which I thought was wonderful. It was a perfect choice for the time and setting and really played into the whole theme of the character of Silence finding a voice and her own strength. Of course people were commenting on how “stupid” it was, how they hated it and how no one would have named a girl that back then. I’ve discovered since that it not only matters if something is accurate it also matters if people think it’s accurate.
Of course, names can be used ironically as well. Benjamin Franklin, for example, created the pseudonym/persona Silence Dogood to write letters from the point of view of a sharp tongued widow who was *anything* but silent. I think people have always had a sense of humor across time and space. :)
“Particularly if the ‘Godsgift’ character is from a very religious family who is part of one of the more austere Protestant sects.” Eh… considering the type of stories I write under the Nan De Plume name, “Godsgift” definitely falls into the realm of irony. Of course, he could have *originated* from an austere protestant sect. Let’s just say his probable background is far from the characters’ lusty thoughts…
If you don’t mind my asking, do you have a background in history? Your comments on the subject are quite informed and thorough.
Ironic names are some of the most fun I think! And yes people always had a sense of humor. And there has been “risqué” humor as long as people have been alive. My undergrad degree is in history and I still read a lot it for fun. Thank you for the kind thoughts!
You are welcome!
Have you ever considered writing an HR? I would find the research too intimidating to create anything longer than a short story.
I think like every voracious reader I’ve thought over the years that I would like to write a novel, and historical romance is probably my all time favorite. I don’t flatter myself however that I actually have the chops to pull it off as I know very well it takes more than just an idea, or a love of the genre or being told you wrote a great paper once, to be even a decent, let alone a great novelist. I have the utmost respect for people like yourself who can put all the parts together into a cohesive and entertaining whole, actually bang it out on the computer, and get it edited and sold. That’s hard work in addition to talent.
On top of that, I can only imagine I would be incredibly pedantic and stuff the manuscript full of historical details no one would want to read. Much like this comment, lol.
“I have the utmost respect for people like yourself who can put all the parts together into a cohesive and entertaining whole, actually bang it out on the computer, and get it edited and sold.”
Aw, thanks, Chrisreader. You flatter me. But I can’t quite take credit for all that. With the exception of a few articles and short stories I’ve had published under a different name, I am self-published. Nor have I ever published a novel- or finished one for that matter. Somehow, my longer works tend to get stuck in the novella range.
As for my short stories, erotica gives me the unique freedom to start with “just an idea” and run with it. Plotting is my weakest writing point, regardless of genre. Character and situation-driven vignettes are more my style. I can’t tell you how many rejections I’ve received with the note, “We love your characters, style, and premise, but the plot just doesn’t work/there isn’t a plot.”
Thankfully, erotica readers tend to be quite forgiving of plot development- or lack thereof. I don’t know if this path would be of interest to you, but I have found it to be a fun adventure. If anything, the freedom to write without having to worry about producing great literature with a proper three act structure is a great way to exercise my brain and hone my skills in other literary areas.
Is it hard work? Sometimes. I’m a writer by inner compulsion anyhow so the fun often overpowers the work aspect once I get going. The real challenge in erotica shorts is quantity. I’m talking about producing at least one approximately 5,000 word story per week to stay on the radar. For me, that’s the part that can be brutal. Do I always meet that goal? No, but I do my best.
Sorry for the digression. I just wanted to assure you that there are ways to make the writing goal a reality. Stephen King recommended sticking with short stories because there is far less time investment than a novel. I’m inclined to agree with him.
P.S. If you ever want to write a HR short story up to 5,000 words to try it out, there is a paying literary magazine called Timeworn Literary Journal. They are looking specifically for historical fiction that takes place before 1996 and are open to romance (but not erotica).
Thank you Nan, I notice you post a lot of opportunities for writing which is very good of you and I appreciate how encouraging you are to others who may want to start writing. I understand completely why a novella or shorter format is appealing to begin with, and some of my favorite romance reads have been those.
You’re welcome. When it comes to encouraging fellow writers (or aspiring ones!), I definitely have a “more the merrier” attitude. I think self-publishing and the rise of indie presses have really evened out the playing field for those wanting to cut their teeth. :)
I’ve discovered since that it not only matters if something is accurate it also matters if people think it’s accurate.
That’s an excellent point, and one that’s occurred to me many times as well. A good example is the name Tiffany – which is often seen as very modern (and in the UK came into vogue in the 90s/00s when a popular soap character had it), but it can actually be traced back to medieval times. I’m sure there are lots of other examples. I have yet, however, to find that Harrison, Ethan or Jayden originated in the Middle Ages, so they’re still out for 19th Century dukes!
The first known recording of the surname Harrison dates from 1355 in London, England.
Here’s another one for you. “Briana” dates back to the 1590s in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.
Yes, but as a first name, I believe it originated in 19th century America. I haven’t done an extensive search, but I would imagine it’s only really been used in the UK since the 1980s and Harrison Ford. I have the odd kid in the odd class with that name, but nowhere near as many as there are Callums, Jakes, Sams and Joshes.
And Guilford Dudley, Lady Jane Grey’s short lived hubby, is one of the first examples of people using a family last name as a first name- so it did happen even as far back as the 16th century.
I think it was the late, great film critic Roger Ebert who observed that the details in a work of fiction don’t necessarily have to be accurate but do need to feel authentic. I’m sure if we did enough research, we could probably find a minor 18th/19th-century noble/aristocratic family with a son whose name or nickname was “Chase” (or, as someone suggested, something short for “Chauncey”), so using “Chase” as a Regency hero’s name might be technically accurate, but it simply feels far too modern to be authentic. Another naming element that is rarely addressed in Regencies, particularly ones of recent vintage, is that by-and-large very few members of the upper-classes were ever addressed by their given names by anyone. In addition to standard forms of address (My Lord, Your Grace, etc.) from people lower on the social scale, amongst his peers, a nobleman would be referred to by the land he was titled with (the Duke of Carbury would probably be called “Carbury” by his friends, even relatives). Even amongst middle-class people, calling each other “Mr. LastName” or “Mrs./Miss LastName” was common, even between husband and wife (especially in public or in written communications). Of course, by today’s standards, the h&h calling each other by their accurate titles (or “Mr./Mrs./Miss) would not feel as authentic as them calling each other by their given first names.
“I think it was the late, great film critic Roger Ebert who observed that the details in a work of fiction don’t necessarily have to be accurate but do need to feel authentic.”
That’s a great point. I remember listening to the audio commentary of the musical 1776 where the director and I think screenwriter discussed what artistic changes they had to make to history in order to make the story believable. For example, there is a heated exchange about removing the clause to abolish slavery in the Declaration of Independence. John Adams allegedly said in real life that if they caved into the compromise of leaving slavery legal, there would only be terrible fighting about a hundred years hence. Now, the screenwriter said he had to change the line to something more vague. Otherwise, the audience would roll their eyes and think, “Oh, yeah sure. That’s just the writer making an overly obvious reference to the Civil War.” According to the screenwriter, whether or not Mr. Adams actually made such an insightful statement didn’t matter. It would have felt forced and inauthentic in a 1970s film.
I don’t always understand why films pick and choose what “authentic” items they include. I don’t know if anyone here has seen the newest version of Emma that was just released for home viewing but it’s an odd mix of accurate and (IMHO) goofy stuff. The costumes are gorgeous and in many respects very accurate (if sometimes over the top) yet they have the whole ball scene with people dancing together and not wearing gloves. Then later on Emma is sitting in her parlor reading a book with full elbow length leather gloves on, which makes zero sense. There is an elaborate scene where Mr. Knightley is dressed from head to toe which seems to accurately show how a man of his status was dressed at the time then in another scene he comes home overwrought and lies down on the floor of his dining room? Drawing room? I know they were trying to make it “relatable” for a young audience but it’s the oddest mix of things I’ve seen.
@Chrisreader- Yeah, I get pretty annoyed with certain anachronisms myself, like the kind you’re describing. I guess it really depends on which things the writers, directors, etc. choose to change. In my 1776 example, the lines still felt authentic even though they weren’t verbatim to reality. But the weird mixes of old and new in regard to costumes and customs really drive me up the wall.
My big pet peeve is any Shakespearean play that uses the original language but has the characters dressed in the wrong period costumes- whether in cinema or theater. That’s a hard no for me because it looks and feels so wonky. This really limits the adaptations available to me. In fact, the only Shakespeare performance I have ever truly enjoyed was the Globe Theatre production of Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry on DVD. All the costumes were period accurate, to the point where the costume designer said she would have refused to use a button mold if it came out even one year after the play was written. That is some hardcore dedication right there, and the adaptation is fantastic because of it. I wish more people had such high respect for their art instead of saying, “Well, the kids won’t mind if we use 1800s costumes for a Shakespeare play. It’s all gibberish to them anyway.” UGH!
My all time favorite Shakespeare production is Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet. I know it cuts a good chunk of the dialogue including Juliet’s poison speech but I can’t think of a film where the costumes and settings were so faithful. I also really enjoyed Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing even though the costumes are an odd mix of periods. His Henry V is also excel lent. Mark Rylance is a great and Imho under known actor.
Oof! I can’t believe I forgot Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but one thing that stood out to me was his directorial decision to make the duel between Tybalt and Mercutio more of a playful posturing between two teenage boys that turns deadly as opposed to a fight to the death from the get-go. That was an interesting choice that I still think about sometimes. I actually kind of liked it.