Lord Langley is Back in Town
You know that mildly titillated/slightly confused feeling you get during those times when you can’t help but eavesdrop on a stranger’s gossipy conversation? I got that same sensation from Elizabeth Boyle’s Lord Langley is Back in Town. I haven’t read her previous work, so the inside jokes and references of characters from those earlier books left me feeling distanced and uninvolved, even while I was being entertained.
Minerva is the sole remaining Lady Standon, so she has been enjoying the relative peace of the home once shared by all three widowed Lady Standons. While no longer wealthy, she is happy to be free of her Marquess of Standon and plans to remain unmarried for the rest of her life. When the book opens she is being coerced by her matchmaking aunt to remarry, as have the two Lady Standons who succeeded her.
Meanwhile, Lord Langley, who has been presumed dead for years, has escaped from a French prison and is now home in London trying to clear his name. He was a spy for England, but was set up, nearly murdered, and branded a traitor. The bash he took to the head left him with limited memory of events prior to his imprisonment, leaving him unsure of who is friend or foe. He’s been living in the attic of his old home (Minerva’s current residence), sneaking out to investigate and then back in again.
One evening, Langley’s former mistresses from all over Europe descend en masse on Minerva, having heard through the grapevine that Lord Langley is back. Because of them Langley has to forego his usual route into the house, electing to climb a drainpipe into Minerva’s bedroom instead. When he’s caught there he comes up with the bright idea of a pretend betrothal to Minerva, which will put him directly in the public eye and perhaps flush his enemies from hiding. Minerva adamantly refuses, of course, until her own secret past interferes and makes it impossible to refuse Langley’s scheme after all.
Lord Langley’s character makes this book. He’s smart and playful, unashamed of his many past indiscretions, and slightly crazy. His attitude toward Minerva is mischievous and teasing. He’s in his forties, but is still physical and adventuresome, making impetuous decisions and kissing strange women. Although he’s an English baron, he’s highly reminiscent of a buck-wild southern boy, all grown up but still a little wild.
Minerva’s character has some good qualities as well. Now that she’s free of her appalling excuse of a marriage, she wants to be nothing more than respectable widow. Its a problem that her nature is more passionate than she wishes and she has a hard time remaining repressed while Langley is around. She also has a many-faceted personality. She’ll speak something aloud and then be immediately contradicted by her internal dialogue. She also has many completely socially unacceptable thoughts that go unexpressed. She’a slightly larcenous, having kept the Standon heirloom diamonds even though they should rightfully go to Langley’s daughter. After listening far too many times to the mistresses questioning why Langley would choose her of all people, Minerva rises to the occasion. It’s fun to watch her loosen up.
There is a lot to enjoy about this book. It’s a competently written story with amusing characters and good pacing. If I hadn’t been confused about the backstory I would probably have enjoyed it a lot more. As it was, I spent a lot of time looking at the pages of family trees and introductions, trying to figure out who was who, because the many characters all come from different books and even from different series. It was hard to keep track, especially at the beginning of the story when one person after another showed up or was mentioned. That’s no fun. Toward the end of the book someone’s brother plays an important role in a pivotal scene, and by then I was just too disinterested to try to figure out that character, much less his brother.
One thing that bugged me was Langley’s condition after spending years in a French prison. As far as I’m aware, prisons back then weren’t known for their hygiene or diet or medical care, yet Langley enters prison with a grievous head wound, stays for years, and comes out fit and hearty with white teeth and muscles galore. I didn’t believe it, and every time Minerva admired one of these attributes it took me out of the story.
Although some parts of the book are enjoyable, for the amount of time I spent scratching my head I give this book a C. I suppose a fan that has been around since the beginning would enjoy revisiting characters they enjoyed in previous books, but for a new reader it was all too much. This book definitely doesn’t work as a standalone.