How to Catch a Duke
How to Catch a Duke is the sixth and final book in Grace Burrowes’ Rogues to Riches series about the members of the Wentworth family. The first book – My One and Only Duke – saw a ducal title conferred upon Quinton Wentworth, a wealthy banker from extremely humble origins who grew up doing whatever jobs he could find in order to provide for his younger siblings, and subsequent books have followed the various family members as they’ve each found their HEAs. The hero of How to Catch a Duke is Stephen, Quinn’s younger brother and heir whom we first met as a brilliant, mercurial teen whose insight and often biting wit was shadowed by melancholy, and whose frustrations over his disability – his abusive father smashed Stephen’s knee when he was a child and he needs a cane (sometimes two) to walk – came through strongly. Ten years later, Stephen is still brilliant and mercurial; he’s also charming, loyal, generous and quite ruthless when he wants to be and hasn’t let his physical limitations stop him from shagging his way across the continent or from ‘dallying’ extensively in England with a variety of willing partners.
When this book opens, Stephen receives a visit from Miss Abigail Abbott, the enquiry agent who recently did some work for his sister Constance (The Truth About Dukes). In a dramatic opening, Abigail tells Stephen that she has “come to ask you to murder me, my lord.” – which is, of course, not what she means at all; what she wants is to disappear while she attempts to find out why someone – a marquess no less – is out to do her harm. Abigail is cagey, but Stephen – being Stephen – quickly works out who it is and promptly offers to kill him instead.
The next morning over breakfast, Abigail explains that Lord Stapleton believes her to be in possession of some letters he wants returned – which she is unable to do as she no longer has them. She refuses to answer Stephen’s questions as to the identity of the writer and recipient of the letters, simply saying that the marquess is not entitled to them and is clearly prepared to go to any lengths to get them. Stephen recognises that Abigail – whom he already admires for her spirit and no-nonsense attitude (and lusts after for her other attributes) – is genuinely scared, and suggests that instead of faking her death, they should pretend to be engaged and that she should go to stay under Quinn’s protection at Walden House while they work out how to retrieve the letters or get Stapleton to stop hounding her – and preferably both.
I’m generally a fan of Grace Burrowes’ novels, although I’ve long since given up trying to keep up with them all! I enjoy her quirky writing style and the strong familial connections she creates in her stories, and although I haven’t read all the books in this series, I’ve read enough of them to be able to know who most of the characters are and how they relate to one another – so this isn’t the place to start with the Wentworths! But with all that said, I had a number of issues with the book that mean I can’t grade it more highly. The plot is stretched thin and moves very slowly until well into the second half, and I didn’t feel a great deal of chemistry between Stephen and Abigail, who become lovers very quickly, before they really know each other. And while I applaud Ms. Burrowes for writing a couple who talk frankly about sex and their past relationships, I found it hard to believe a young unmarried woman – even one who had had a lover – would have felt comfortable discussing such things with a man she didn’t know all that well. Then there’s the fact that Stephen makes no bones about the fact that he’s had intimate relationships with a few men as well as women, and Abigail takes that in her stride, too (as, it seems, do other members of the family). On the one hand, it’s great to see such a supportive, non-judgmental reaction, but on the other, their easy, unconcerned acceptance seemed too modern.
The best thing about the book is undoubtedly Stephen, probably the most complex and damaged character of all the Wentworths. He’s living with a terrible secret as well as a disability that has caused many to see him as ‘less than’ and has spent most of his life compensating for it in one way and another; not just in his legendary prowess between the sheets, but in many other ways, too, channelling what had been, in youth, self-destructive impulses into creative ones. The other thing I really liked was the new and greater understanding that develops between him and Quinn. Although Stephen had no wish to feel it, he couldn’t help resenting Quinn for being able to do things he couldn’t and for being able to escape their father’s cruelties, and Quinn has seen Stephen as somewhat spoiled, and self-indulgent, and has even been jealous of his intelligence. There’s never been any question that they’d do anything for each other, but they’ve always been a bit wary of each other, too, and I was pleased to see those misunderstandings finally laid to rest.
There’s a large-ish secondary cast of Wentworth siblings and in-laws I enjoyed re-visting, the villain of the piece is suitably nasty (although no match for Stephen), and the author skilfully weaves a realistic look at the plight of the less fortunate into the background of the story – whether it’s the soldiers returning from war to find there was no work and no help for them, or children, forced to work from the age of six as climbing boys or in mines and factories.
I liked many things about How to Catch a Duke, but unfortunately, the romance isn’t at the top of the list. I’ve been intrigued by Stephen since he first appeared in the book one, so I had high hopes for his book and I really wanted to like it more than I did, but even so, it’s certainly worth a qualified recommendation.