London’s Last True Scoundrel
London’s Last True Scoundrel is the first in Ms. Brooke’s Westruther series, and is, in short, a “rake-meets-uptight-and-proper-young-lady” story, a trope for which I admit to having a certain fondness. Because this is a continuation of her previous Ministry of Marriage series, a number of characters from those earlier books crop up in this one. Fortunately, however, it’s fairly clear who is who, so I didn’t feel I was missing anything by not having read or listened to the previous books.
While I found the audio to be fairly entertaining, the story itself is nothing to write home about. I suspect my enjoyment was principally due to a very good performance from Elizabeth Wiley, a narrator I heard here for the first time.
Jonathon Westruther, Earl of Davenport has recently returned to the bosom of his family, miraculously resurrected after being presumed dead for the previous six years. Just why this is the case is not explained until very near the end, although there are hints throughout that there is something nefarious afoot. It’s also clear that Jonathon has returned to the land of the living a changed man. Old Jonathon was gentlemanly and devoted to his scientific studies, whereas New Jonathon has quickly made a name as a reprobate and all-round scoundrel – although why the title touts him as the “last true” scoundrel is something I can’t quite fathom.
At the beginning of the book, our hero is drugged by his friends and bundled off to his country estate to prevent him making a mistake which would ruin the rest of his life. Unfortunately, his friends don’t get him as far as his estate, instead dumping his troublesome, bellicose, semi-conscious form in a barn and leaving him to make his own way home.
When he comes to, bruised, dishevelled, and wondering what the hell happened, Jonathon finds himself in the middle of nowhere with no means of getting back to London. He manages to borrow a horse from a local farmer and has embarked upon his journey when he comes across a young woman trudging unaccompanied through the country lanes in the rain.
She is Miss Hilary de Vere, a very proper young woman who has spent a number of years teaching etiquette and deportment at a school for young ladies. But now, and for no reason other than the fact that her family name is a byword for debauchery and scandal, she has been dismissed and has no alternative but to return to the home inhabited by her two dissolute brothers. All she wants is a London season – something to which, as a gentlewoman, she should be entitled – and a chance to find herself a kind, comfortable husband. She knows that her two hard-drinking, womanising brothers will never agree to fund one but she has nowhere else to go.
A reprobate he may be, but Davenport was raised a gentleman, and his conscience won’t allow him to leave Hilary to her own devices, so he insists on accompanying her. Hilary is most definitely struck by Jonathon’s good looks – even underneath the bruises – but senses that he is a scoundrel of the worst sort and definitely not the sort of man with whom she should associate and tries to shake him off.
But Davenport won’t be deterred and eventually, Hilary gives in and allows him to take her home. On arrival, the situation is even worse than Hilary had feared. It’s bad enough that the house is in an advanced state of neglect, but she and Davenport have arrived in the middle of an orgy! Hilary is mortified, but Davenport comes to her rescue once again, sending the whores packing and letting her brothers know, in no uncertain terms (i.e, with his fists) that showing their sister such disrespect is unacceptable. Knowing he cannot leave an innocent young woman with two such wastrels, Davenport decides to escort her to London where he will install her with his cousin, Rosamund, Lady Tregarth, who is married to her cousin, Griffin de Vere.
In spite of such gentlemanly urges, Davenport has already decided to seduce Hilary – who he has annoyingly nicknamed “Honey” – and has made no bones about his intentions:
“You must not kiss me again, or try any … funny business.”
“Funny business. Hmm.” He contemplated her for a moment. “No, I’m afraid I can’t promise that… I fear that you, my dear Honey, are too much temptation for a man like me to resist.”
Most of the story revolves around Davenport’s determination to get Hilary into bed, and her efforts to resist him which, of course, eventually fail. Then, in the last section of the book, we discover the reasons behind Davenport’s “death” and the story suddenly veers off into thriller territory, with Jonathon having to face down a dangerous enemy, as well as to evade the clutches of a young woman trying to entrap him into marriage.
The story isn’t an original one, although it is well-executed and fast-paced with some good dialogue and palpable chemistry between the leads. The hero and heroine are fairly stereotypical, however; Jonathon is the stock-in-trade rake who isn’t anywhere near as black as he is painted, with a penchant for saying things to make his lady blush; Hilary is the oh-so-prim-and-proper lady whose prudery is just a little too overdone. Her primness is occasionally naively endearing, although I found her overriding desire to be accepted into society (symbolised by her obsession with obtaining vouchers for Almack’s) to be a tad grating.
I enjoyed Elizabeth Wiley’s performance very much. All the main and secondary characters are clearly differentiated and easy to tell apart. Her male voices are all very good – deep without sounding strained – and she adds a smattering of regional accents for some of the servants. I didn’t know before I started listening that Ms. Wiley is American, and I confess, I’m not a big fan of American narrators reading British-set stories using their native accents, so I was worried I’d made a mistake in selecting this audio to review. Happily, my mind was quickly set at rest when I realised that Ms. Wiley performs all the characters using a British accent and reads the narrative in her own. Her English accent is good and well-sustained throughout, although I wasn’t too keen on her portrayal of Hilary, who sounds a little TOO perfect and almost as though she’s stepped out of a 1940s movie (think Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter, and you will have an idea of what I mean).
There were one or two odd mispronunciations here and there, the most frequent being the pronunciation of the word “betrothed” as betroth-ed, but otherwise, I found Ms. Wiley’s performance to be very engaging. I’m sure it’s what turned a little more than average book into an enjoyable listening experience.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: B and Book Content: C
Unabridged. Length – 11 hours 5 minutes