Kissing a Stranger
What this book has going for it is great historical detail. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things about Kissing a Stranger that aren’t so great. Such as the hero’s falling prey to the old “She wants to marry for money, so she must be greedy and shallow” routine. And that the heroine never shared the truth about her family’s poverty with him. This miscommunication wears thin after a while. Finally, there’s a lengthy separation between the hero and heroine in the last third of the book – a death knell for many readers, including this one.
Lady Lavinia Cashin and her family live on the Isle of Man. Though they are titled, they are poor and on the verge of losing their castle. Lavinia decides to go to London to find a wealthy husband. The first man she meets is Lord Garrick Armitage. She finds him attractive, but he is an infamous gambler who doesn’t seem like good husband material. Before Lavinia can find any other suitable candidates, her father ends up in debtors’ prison. Although her need for a wealthy husband is now more urgent, Lavinia is too ashamed to tell anyone about her father’s predicament.
Though he holds her in disdain because she wants to marry for money, Garrick introduces Lavinia to his cousin, Frances, who tries to match Lavinia with the wealthy Lord Newbold. Frances engineers a country house gathering so that Lavinia and Newbold can get better acquainted. Garrick attends as well, and the two become more attracted to each other during course of the party. Lavinia agrees to elope with Garrick if he’ll give her the money she needs to free her father, but she doesn’t tell him the real reason she needs the money. They spend the night together in an inn, but bad weather prevents them from running off together.
In London, Lavinia goes to the prison to pick up her father after he is freed. Garrick follows her and finds out the truth. He says some cruel things to her, so Lavinia decides to become engaged to Newbold instead. Although Lavinia soon comes to regret this decision, the conclusion drags on forever because Lavinia can’t bring herself to go back to Garrick.
There are some things in this book that just don’t add up. Lavinia is an outsider in London. She grew up in a drafty castle and wore hand-me-down dresses rather than gowns. Poverty has made her strong against adversity. She is also candid and independent. So why didn’t she tell Garrick the truth sooner? Also, some of her actions during her engagement to Newbold seemed out of character because of their dishonesty. It’s one thing to lie about your father being in debtors’ prison, but it’s another thing to manipulate two men into paying for an expensive necklace you intend to sell!
Like Lavinia, Garrick is an outsider – he has spent most of his life in Venice and was the product of an affair. So you’d think he’d recognize another outsider when he saw one. Instead, he thought Lavinia was like all the other young women trying to marry for money. It should have been obvious she was doing so out of desperation rather than greed. He assumes that she has been pampered since birth – yet she never acts pampered. I thought skilled gamblers were good at reading people.
I enjoyed some of the unusual plot elements, such as the father’s imprisonment in debtors’ prison. However, there were some superfluous subplots, and some subplots that weren’t developed enough. More attention should have been paid to the subplot involving Garrick’s confrontation with his biological father. And I couldn’t understand why Lavinia didn’t figure out the identity of the villain sooner.
The novel itself was well researched. Margaret Evans Porter skillfully intertwined historical details into her novel. I loved learning about the Isle of Man, debtors’ prison, gambling, horse racing, and more. I also liked the way the author worked the background of her characters into the novel. Unfortunately, the long separation between the hero and heroine really made me lose my enthusiasm, and in the end, the good in Kissing a Stranger was outweighed by the bad.