Jack of Clubs
The back blurb of Jack of Clubs mentions a man opening a gaming house to find his sister who vanished years ago. And how, scratching my head, is that supposed to help? I have no idea, but this is Barbara Metzger, who I can count on for great humorous writing, and so I read on.
Captain Jack Endicott decides to run a search for his still missing half-sister, who was kidnapped when she was a baby fifteen years ago. He opens a refined gaming house in London. Jack figures his sister grew up into a beautiful young woman who may be enticed to use her looks to get a well paying job dealing cards at his gaming house. Despite a substantial reward that has young women flocking to him, Jack can’t find his sister among them.
Miss Allison (Allie) Silver is out of a job after a fire burned down the girls’ school where she taught. Her last duty is to escort a student to the house of the student’s grandparents in London. Harriet, a holy terror of a child, has frazzled Allie completely to the bone. They arrive in town to find that Harriet’s grandfather recently died and that the grandmother is mentally incapacitated. Desperate to unload the hellion, er, child, Allie tracks down the grandparents’ solicitor. By threatening to leave Harriet with him, she discovers Harriet’s late father left a will, leaving all his possessions to his good friend, Jonathan Endicott. Well, Harriet counts as one of his possessions, right?
Naturally, the fact that Harriet’s guardian operates a gambling establishment appalls Allie and, naturally, the fact that he is now responsible for a little girl appalls Jack. A little girl who pours his expensive brandy for his dog to drink. A little girl who puts his new coat from Weston on his dog. Jack repeatedly begs Allie to stay, protesting he doesn’t know the first thing about taking care of children, and Allie finally gives in after seeing how dark and cold it is outside, how she has nowhere to go, and how she has caught a cold (from Harriet). She vows, however, to go to the employment agencies the next day to obtain a new job and Jack vows to himself to go to the employment agencies before her and sabotage her efforts so Allie could stay and take care of Harriet for him indefinitely.
Allie and Jack are a fun couple. Allie is determined, strong-minded, and stands up for herself. Allie’s grandfather, a marquess, disowned his only daughter for defying him and marrying a humble scholar for love. The scene during which Allie tells off her estranged grandfather is terrific. Allie disapprovingly thinks Jack is a flirt, a gambler, and a womanizer, yet she can’t help noticing he’s also handsome, charming, and kind, qualities that Metzger tells more to the reader than shows.
And that is only one of the problems in plotting in the book. An arson subplot introduced halfway through the book is never resolved. The initial plotline of Jack’s search for his missing sister disappears after chapter one, surfaces 100 pages later, only to be still unresolved at the end of the book. Metzger instead dwells on Jack’s and Allie’s separate reasons for fighting their attraction to each other, which goes on far too long in the second half of the book and becomes tedious as a result.
The best thing about this book is its humor. Impish Harriet has the best lines and actions, followed closely by Jack, while Allie as straight man suffers the brunt of them both. I love the hilarious one-liners and aside comments. I love how evil Harriet was; there’s something delicious about a small girl who makes an ex-convict run off to visit a fictitious mother and an ex-soldier whimper in a corner after being with her.
Metzger has always been engaging for her humor; she could easily be a stand up comedian or a sitcom writer. I just really wished that her plotting in Jack of Clubs were as brilliant as her humor.