My Notorious Gentleman
My Notorious Gentleman is the sixth book in Ms Foley’s Inferno Club series, and is a well-written and well-characterised romance in which the handsome and battle-hardened war hero, Lord Trevor Montgomery, meets and falls for the local vicar’s daughter, Grace Kenwood.
I enjoyed reading it – but have to admit that I didn’t find it to be anything out of the ordinary. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind formulaic when it’s done well, and this certainly was. Grace and Trevor were engaging, well-rounded characters and while there was a danger of Grace’s being rather too perfect, with her good works and determination to put everyone else first, I’m pleased to say that she had just enough imperfections to keep her on the right side of the “too good to be true” line.
Trevor is – or was – a member of the Inferno Club, which, as has been revealed in earlier books in the series, isn’t a club for men who wish to indulge in debauchery, but rather the cover for a group of crack spies and assassins who were trained since boyhood to serve the crown. This is the penultimate book in the series, so the war is over, and Trevor is struggling to adapt to civilian life. I liked that aspect of his character, and that Grace was able to see beneath the handsome, urbane surface to the man beneath who is unsure of his place in the world and who carries the weight of so many black deeds.
Naturally, such an exciting and attractive addition to local society excites the interest of the debutantes and their matchmaking mamas, the foremost of which are Lady Calpurnia Windlesham and her formidable mother. Callie unashamedly sets her cap at Trevor who couldn’t be more disinterested – he’s just been jilted by his beautiful, blonde, superficial fiancée and the last thing he wants is to become ensnared by an equally self-obsessed carbon copy of her.
Besides, he’s far more interested in quiet, unassuming Grace, who, at twenty-five believes herself to be firmly on the shelf and incapable of attracting the attentions of such a gorgeous man.
I enjoyed watching their friendship develop and blossom into more, and seeing Trevor find a new purpose in life as he came to realise that there was much he could do to help improve the lives of the local villagers. The romance was gentle and I particularly liked the fact that Trevor was as smitten with Grace as she was with him, right from their first meeting. She didn’t have to spend too much time pining uselessly, as he was fairly up-front about his interest in her, which was another bonus; although I did find her “a guy like that can’t possibly be interested in a girl like me” attitude to be a little wearing at times.
Another of the things I particularly liked about the novel was the portrait Ms Foley painted of the difficulties of rural life at the time, just after the Napoleonic wars. Not only was it a time of great hardship and scarcity because of the war, with many families devastated by the loss of fathers, sons and brothers, but in 1816, freak weather conditions combined with a volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia) had a wide-reaching effect across Europe which meant that summer never arrived and the temperatures throughout the year were much colder than average. As a result, harvests were poor or failed completely, only adding to the shortages that had already been occasioned by blockades and the other effects of war.
Ms Foley incorporates this detail into her book to good effect, as Trevor comes to realise that by buying the Grange, he now has a responsibility to the local people, and he and Grace work together to try to make preparations to help the villagers to mitigate the likely effects of the poor harvests and the approaching winter.
The one thing in the story that didn’t work for me was the final section in which an angry criminal gang from London descends on the village (seeking retribution for the actions of Grace’s friend, George), and proceeds to kidnap Trevor, Grace, and George and take them away so they can dispose of them without witnesses. I suppose this section was partly there to provide a bit of adventure and partly to remind us that for all his distaste for the things he was required to do during the war, Trevor is still capable of being a lean, mean killing machine who is prepared to get his hands dirty if he has to. But it happened so suddenly, and with so little build up that it didn’t fit with the overall tone of the rest of the story, which was a character-driven romance in which an emotionally scarred hero was able to set down roots and find someone who would see him as a person rather than as a collection of heroic – or, in his eyes, not so heroic – endeavours.
That quibble apart, I found Ms Foley’s writing to be immediately engaging, her characterisation consistent, and thought there was plenty of humour in the dialogue. The pacing was fairly slow, but I didn’t find that to be a problem, as it allowed the development of the romance to take centre stage. My Notorious Gentleman was a gentle, undemanding read, and I enjoyed it enough to want to read some of the other books in the series.