Last Gentleman Standing
Originally titled Bluestocking, Jane Ashford’s Last Gentleman Standing has been unavailable to readers for over twenty-five years, but it’s coming back into print in early September. Since I’m a fan of British historicals, I was eager to give it a try. Unfortunately, it was not an enjoyable experience by any stretch of the imagination.
Miss Elisabeth Elham is living and working at a finishing school for young ladies in the seaside town of Bath until she inherits a fortune from an uncle she never knew. Now, she’s on her way to London to live the life of a wealthy heiress. At twenty-four, she considers herself quite firmly on the shelf, and that’s all right with her – she doesn’t plan on looking for a husband. She’s content to serve as a chaperon to her orphaned cousins and to open her home to a distant, elderly relative who can hopefully fill her in on the details of society she has never learned.
As soon as Elisabeth arrives in London, a slew of eligible bachelors descends on her. News of her fortune has traveled quickly, and she’s a hit with pretty much everyone almost immediately. I’m not a fan of needless drama, but neither do I want to read a story in which the main character doesn’t seem to face a single obstacle. Ms. Ashford would have us believe Elisabeth is the most beautiful, intelligent, original young lady London has ever seen, but I struggled to buy into this idea.
Derek Wincannon is the only man who doesn’t seem interested in making Elisabeth his wife. The two of them strike up a sort of friendship, and Elisabeth finds herself coming to rely on Derek’s dry wit to get her through a series of very dull parties and picnics. The author clearly intends her readers to believe in a romantic connection between these two, but I couldn’t see it. They have absolutely no chemistry at all and the bulk of the time they spend together is taken up with their making disparaging remarks about people they know, and I found it very difficult to have even the slightest of warm feelings for either one of them.
When Tony, one of the cousins Elisabeth has taken into her home, disappears under very suspicious circumstances, Elisabeth and Derek grow even closer as they try to figure out what happened to him. Elisabeth naturally assumes the worst, but Derek councils her to remain calm while he investigates the disappearance. Of course, Elisabeth isn’t content to sit back and wait for Derek to save the day, so she embarks on a very poorly thought-out search of her own. Derek disapproves of her bad choices, they argue, but eventually make up, and that seems to be the formula this novel follows. It’s full of pointless misunderstandings and petty arguments, neither of which did anything to convince me that Elisabeth and Derek were even remotely attracted to one another.
I struggled to make sense of the complex suspense plot that begins with Tony’s disappearance and grows more ridiculous with every chapter. I think Ms. Ashford was trying to introduce some conflict into the story, but it served as more of a distraction than anything else. The villain is super obvious, and his motives ended up being extremely cringeworthy. Elisabeth and Derek come close to figuring things out a few times, but shy away from the truth for reasons that were never very clear to me. In short, it’s a mess.
I wanted to Last Gentleman Standing much more than I actually did. In fact, if this hadn’t been a title I was committed to reviewing, I probably would have called it quits about halfway through. The characters were flat, the dialogue made me roll my eyes, and the writing was average at best. If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted historical that sparkles with witty banter and boasts a swoonworthy romance, I implore you to look elsewhere, because this isn’t it.