After having read 23 books by Catherine Coulter, I figure I’m something of an expert on her. For just about every book I’ve loved or liked by this author, there are an equal number of books I’ve disliked or abhorred. Indeed, my batting average for her is this: 5 A’s, 6 B’s, 2 C’s, 6 D’s, and 4 F’s. Nearly all the books I most loved by Catherine Coulter were read in the early to mid 1990’s – it’s been quite some time since I unabashedly adored one of her books. The Courtship is among the best I’ve read by her, featuring great wit, great sensuality, great lead characters, and great secondary ones as well.
Lady Helen intrigues Spenser Heatherington, Lord Beecham, even before he’s gotten a glimpse of her. How, you say, could this be? When he overhears her speaking with Alexandra Sherbrooke (of The Sherbrooke Bride) about discipline, more than his intellectual curiosity is aroused. When he meets the tall, blond, and curvy Helen, the double entendres that flow from her mouth, as well as her obvious delight in his personage, have him day-dreaming of her quite consistently. And when she quite literally jumps his bones in the park one day, things really heat up.
Now, before you think this is a book featuring S&M, relax. The sort of discipline involved in the plentiful love scenes here are not ones where either Spenser or Helen humiliates one another sexually. Perhaps the best description of the sort of discipline comes from what Spenser does to Helen as he’s trying to convince her to marry him after she’s turned him down. He employs what he calls the “not-quite-ecstasy” discipline, after which she is so pent-up that she nearly beats him senseless. She is, after all, an Amazon of a woman.
Okay, so perhaps you’ve got to have a devilish sense of humor to enjoy this book. But with secondary characters such as a lady’s maid named Teeny, who refuses to marry a butler named Flock because she doesn’t want to be known as Teeny Flock, it readily becomes apparent that author Coulter has infused the entire book with warmth and wit. All the characters are eccentric in some fashion – even the village where Helen lives has gotten into the discipline game and are beginning to fashion elaborate parties to take care of those who have done wrong.
All of this is done with an incredibly light touch, never allowing the focus to go far from Helen and Lord Beecham. Helen would rather keep love and sex from their relationship and focus on the mystery of finding King Edward’s Lamp. Lord Beecham, while initially sure a massive dose of Helen, followed by a cooling off period, will inoculate him against her charms, realizes the sheer folly of that, and sets about to win her over.
For all the wit and sparkle, however, the author manages to create meaningful characters of substance. Lord Beecham, whose original plan is to marry just before he cocks up his toes, has good reason not to believe in love and marriage. Luckily, he didn’t grow up to be an alpha-heel sort of tormented hero. Instead, he became a lightweight, and his transformation through scholarship of the mystery surrounding the Lamp is ingenious. He reminded me of some of the very best sort of hero Amanda Quick is known for.
Lady Helen, of course, has her reasons for not wanting the relationship to become serious, but his steady seduction of her is simply delicious. He loves the way she affects him, the way he affects her, her strength, her intelligence, her independence. . . It is precisely as he thinks at one point in the book, “Ah, the woman had been fashioned by a beneficent God just for him.” Although Spenser had already realized his love for Helen by now, the timing of this particular revelation, given that Helen is shooting daggers at him, is a delight.
The mystery sub-plot, because it helps to transform the hero, and because it is what brings them together, does not overpower the romance in the least. Even when Spenser is off on a tear in London, away from Helen’s village, he is there to research the Lamp, and it is during this hiatus that he realizes time and distance aren’t getting Helen out of his mind as he had hoped. The sub-plot also allows the author to weave into the story some old friends from The Sherbrooke Bride and The Hellion Bride, all of whom discover the joys of discipline from Helen and Spenser.
The only flaw, and the reason it didn’t receive DIK status from me, is that so many of the possible villains and/or those scholars involved in the mystery portion of the novel were Reverends, and, after a while, I got confused as to which Reverend was which.
Whether you have never read Catherine Coulter, used to read Catherine Coulter, or make a general rule to always read Catherine Coulter, I heartily recommend you read The Courtship. The sparkle, the chemistry, the humor, the romance – it’s all there.