Nowhere Near Respectable
Mary Jo Putney has long been a favorite of mine, but her recent return to historicals has been a bit hit or miss with me; while I enjoyed the previous Lost Lords series, her other recent release, The Bargain, failed to catch my attention. Now she’s back to the Lost Lords in Nowhere Near Respectable, and returning to some of her roots in aristocratic espionage. It may not be groundbreaking, but it’s still very good.
Lady Kiri Lawford is the daughter of a duke and an Indian woman, putting her in the unusual position of being very high ranking socially, but something of an outcast due to her mixed racial heritage. She was raised in India with her mother and stepfather, a general, and only recently came to England to find a husband. She thinks she has found her match, but then overhears her beau’s mother say some hateful, bigoted things about Kiri herself and her mother. Kiri is a rather feisty young woman, and decides it is in her best interests to leave immediately, lest she kill someone.
But on her way back to London, she comes across a band of smugglers who kidnap her and are debating the merits of raping her, ransoming her, or just killing her outright, when she is rescued by Damian Mackenzie, the illegitimate but beloved half-brother of a baron, owner of a well known club, and man with a questionable past. Kiri is enchanted, though, and goes to his club incognito to repay the ransom he paid to rescue her. But instead she stumbles upon a plot to kidnap Princess Charlotte and kill much of the royal family. Due to her unique olfactory skills in recognizing the kidnappers, she is thrust into the world of spying along with Mackenzie.
Some of my favorite books by Mary Jo Putney feature espionage. It’s a sub-subgenre of historicals that some dislike or find overdone, but Ms. Putney’s are undeniably among the best. Her spy novels have a touch of realism that I appreciate; spying is not all midnight break-ins and dashing sword fights, instead one must be nondescript and observant and hope to chance upon a needle in a haystack. The role of luck and the frequently mundane nature of espionage are emphasized — even while there are a few dust-ups to keep things interesting.
Lady Kiri is a fun character, feisty and sassy (though I wonder about how well chaperoned she was in India, given all the anecdotal stories she tells about spending time with soldiers). Damian is good for her; he may have some dark stains attached to his name, but he holds honor in high regard and sometimes has to put Kiri in her place (and I mean that in the best possible way. For an owner of a slightly risqué club, in some ways he’s more staid and conventional than Kiri).
Another aspect of the story I enjoyed was the role of Princess Charlotte; it was nice to see a real historical figure other than Prinny (and to see him in a different role – that of father, not just reprobate). Sadly, the realities of Charlotte’s short life put a damper on this. However, the historical detail is always something I can count on with Mary Jo Putney, and this was a book that reminded me why I so enjoy her writing.