It Happened One Midnight
It Happened One Midnight is the eighth book in Ms. Long’s Pennyroyal Green series. The hero is Jonathan Redmond, the youngest of the Redmonds.This fact alone made me consider downgrading this book. I and the rest of Ms. Long’s fans have been impatiently waiting since I Kissed an Earl (#5) to learn what Lyon is doing and when Olivia will find out the truth about her father’s involvement in the slave trade. Sadly, there is so little information in this book about the Eversea/Redmond storyline It Happened One Midnight could be read as a stand-alone book.
It Happened One Midnight takes place nine months after the end of I Kissed an Earl. As it begins, Jonathan Redmond encounters Thomasina de Ballesteros (she goes by Tommy) standing outside the window of the Duke of Greyfolk’s London home gazing fixedly at the elderly Duke inside. Jonathan is leaving the Duke’s after dinner there; he wrangled an invitation to try to convince the Duke to invest in a color printing press Jonathan is an owner of. Jonathan has no idea why Tommy, the current toast of the demimonde, is loitering in the dark. He and Tommy had met earlier in the day at a salon Tommy hosts for the eccentric, elderly Countess Mirabeau and had taken each other’s measure. Both are exceptionally gorgeous and charming. On the surface, both are clichés. Jonathan is an aristocratic rake; Tommy, a poor beauty who plans to trade her body for wealth and security. Beneath the selves they show to society, however, their characters are more complex.
Jonathan and Tommy verbally spar in the moonlight. At the end of their conversation, they part, aware that while neither is an appropriate romantic partner for the other, they like each other and might, perhaps, be able to be friends.
The next day, Jonathan returns to the Redmond home in Pennyroyal Green. He comes to visit his very pregnant sister Violet, and having failed to enlist the financial support of Greyfolk, to ask his father, Isaiah, for financial backing for his new business. Isaiah, however, makes it clear to Jonathan that he, Isaiah, hasn’t a whit of faith in Jonathan’s ability to do anything but look good and get in trouble.
Jonathan is shocked his father thinks so little of him. He’s then genuinely infuriated when his father tells him Jonathan has six months to marry a woman Isaiah approves of or Jonathan will be completely cut off financially. This exchange between father and son is reminiscent of Isaiah’s similar threat to Jonathan’s older brother Miles (the hero of Like No Other Lover) which Miles flouted by marrying a woman very much like Tommy.
It’s clear to the reader that, like Miles, Jonathan isn’t going to let his father dictate the woman he’ll marry. And, given that Tommy is the heroine of the book, it’s also clear this book shares a theme that permeates many of the Pennyroyal Green books. In all but two of the eight books, a man is paired with a woman society deems unacceptable as his bride. Ms. Long writes about class distinctions well, yet reading this story again – told better in How the Marquess Was Won – makes It Happened One Midnight feel somewhat stale.
Tommy is an inappropriate woman for Jonathan. She’s the illegitimate and unrecognized daughter of a Duke (guess which one?) and his long dead mistress. Her mother died when she was a child, and prior to the intervention of Countess Mirabeau, Tommy fared poorly on the London streets. She’s clever, manipulative, and ambitious. She longs for a family of her own and to feel owned by a family as well. She flirts with what seems like every unmarried aristocrat in London, but gives herself to none of them, as she is holding out for marriage. She’s also a do-gooder of dangerous proportions: She steals/rescues abused child servants and finds a safe place for them to develop a trade. This aspect of her personality makes her admirable almost to the point of perfection. She’s the Clark Kent of scandalous salons: A seemingly shallow temptress in the evening and a reckless savior of the weak at midnight.
Tommy pulls Jonathan into her midnight missions and he, in turn, uses money she gives him (garnered by pawning a necklace of perfect pearls from an admirer) to fund the first runs of his new color printing press. A suggestion from Tommy about what the printing press could print and make a mint off of gives Jonathan a brilliant idea that earns him financial independence and his father’s fury.
The plot is an odd meld of commerce, danger, adorable tots, explosive kisses, and self-determination. Ms. Long pulls it off although the most compelling story is not of that era’s abused impoverished young but rather of Jonathan’s strategic toppling of his father’s limiting demands. Isaiah Redmond has long been cruising for a comeuppance and it’s satisfying to see his youngest son deliver it to him.
I liked Jonathan more than Tommy in part because Jonathan is deftly and deeply portrayed. Readers of the series have gotten to know him and his troubled family over many pages and he is a compelling and confident hero. Tommy is much hazier. Whole parts of her are missing (her sexual and relational past, her relationship with her mother, how she acquired her many skills, just to name a few). And unlike, Jonathan, she doesn’t have to give up anything to fuse her future with his.
I did enjoy the interactions between the two. Ms. Long excels at writing witty repartee and deliciously effective love scenes. One of the pleasant aspects of It Happened One Midnight is that Tommy and Jonathan like each other long before they begin exploring the lust they feel. I worried, once they became lovers, that Jonathan conflated lust and love, but by the (sigh) epilogue, he and Tommy have the stuff that dreams are made of: True, lasting, passionate love.
I count Ms. Long as one of my favorite writers. Two of her Pennyroyal books (#4 and #5) are among my top ten favorite historical romances. It Happened One Midnight is not one of Ms. Long’s best books, but nor is it a bad one. It’s good, not great.
Did I like it less because I’m running out of patience with the Pennyroyal series? I don’t think so. There are things in this book besides its lack of Olivia/Lyon that didn’t work for me. After reading it twice, I decided to give it a B. I am, however, steeling myself for book nine. It’s not about Olivia and Lyon either. It’s Ian Eversea’s story (last seen being terrorized by the fabulous Duke of Falconbridge, the hero of What I Did for a Duke) and is due out next March. Pennyroyal Green fans will line up in droves to read it and, yes, I’ll be right there with them.