That Scandalous Evening
Some time ago, I decided to read some of the more popular romance authors from a decade or so ago that I was unfamiliar with. Using AAR’s awesome search features, I found Christina Dodd, and up popped thirty-seven reviews – six of which were As including an A+. That looked promising – but then I kept scrolling down. Six As, ten Bs, eleven Cs, nine Ds and one F. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a span of grades for an author! I decided to start with the A+ titled That Scandalous Evening, which was released in 1998.
Jane Higgenbothem once fled London in a whirlwind of disgrace. As a young debutante she fell in love with Ransom Quincy, the illustrious Marquess of Blackburn and decided to immortalize her love for him in a life-sized, nude sculpture (created from her imagination of course) that was maliciously revealed to the ton during a ball at which both she and Blackburn were in attendance. She is disgraced, a suitor deserts her, her sister faints and Blackburn shuns her. To make matters worse, she decides to visit Blackburn to apologize before she leaves London. He is alone in his study and, in his anger, he attempts to seduce her (and she goes along). They are caught and she is ruined.
Fast forward eleven years. Jane’s beloved sister has passed away and Jane is returning to London to supervise the début of her beautiful niece – Adorna. Adorna’s father has informed Jane that she is not welcome and will need to find a new home once Adorna is wed. Jane is anxious about people remembering the scandal and running into Blackburn, who has still not forgiven Jane for his embarrassment. When he runs into her at a ball, he decides to use her as a distraction to the ton, pretending to pursue her so he can get on with his spying business. Jane is not fooled and although she is still physically attracted to him, she guards her heart against him.
Blackburn is in search of French spies and for a while believes Jane may be one, because one of her paintings hangs in Napoléon’s palace (we are never told how this came to be) and because she is seen visiting Lord de Sainte-Amand – a French emigrée. Blackburn stays close to Jane, in an official capacity of course, but finds himself increasingly attracted to her.
The premise of That Scandalous Evening is interesting but the actual story gets muddled along the way. While Adorna’s father plays out as a typical villain, other characters start out with potential but fade along the way. Blackburn’s best friend Fitz is a likeable character who we find out is in financial straits and supporting an ailing mother. So he sets his sights on a heiress and states “by fair means or foul, he would have her”. Blackburn’s sister, Lady Goodridge, is another character with promise but again we are given small threads of her story and are left unsatisfied.
In the end, Blackburn solves the French spy dilemma. This part of the story is somewhat clever and I think if the story-line followed this intrigue we’d have a more interesting novel, but instead, we are just given tidbits of that plotline. The ending feels like a race to wrap everything up with the obligatory kidnapping of Jane and rescue by Blackburn. But when Blackburn rescues Jane, she actually debates whether she’d rather get on board a ship bound to Italy (by herself, with no other clothes and random sailors she hasn’t even met) to study art (a life-long dream we never knew about) or stay with Blackburn, the man she has been attracted to for over a decade, who has married her but who she thinks (but hasn’t actually asked!) will not support her art. And then Blackburn, on bended knee, offers a bunch of random compliments to Jane including “You’ve bound me with….the way you move like a good horse.” Not the words a girl wants to hear!
So what makes one reader give That Scandalous Evening an A+ and another a C-? Is it simply that passage of time? Or a difference in tastes? If you have read this book, or another Dodd book, I’d love to hear your thoughts!