The Diabolical Baron
The Diabolical Baron was Mary Jo Putney’s first book, and while it lacks the depth and sensuality of such later novels as Shattered Rainbows and One Perfect Rose, it is still quite an achievement. Although Putney has rewritten several of her Regency Romances, The Diabolical Baron has been reissued in its original form. To me this seems an odd choice, because the book is almost crying out to be made longer. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, because I enjoyed it very much. But it could easily be expanded to two full length historicals.
The plot is an unusual one, especially for a Regency. Jason Kincaid, Baron Radford, has promised his aunt that he will find a bride. His heart was broken long ago, so he doesn’t particularly care who he marries. When his friend suggests drawing a name of an eligible lady at random and offers to wager on the outcome of the courtship, Jason accepts.
Caroline Hanscombe is the name he chooses, and the couple could not be more oddly matched. While Jason is brash, bold, and intimidating, Caroline has an amazing talent for deliberately fading into the woodwork. Her only interest is music, and she has spent her season avoiding suitors. She has no idea why Jason has singled her out for attention, but when he proposes, her father insists that she accept. She does, and he invites her to his home so they can get to know each other better.
But actually, this book isn’t really about Jason and Caroline, at least not as a couple. When they reach Jason’s home they become part of a love rectangle. Caroline, who never expects to love anyone, falls head over heels for Jason’s neighbor Richard. Jason in turn falls back into love with Caroline’s aunt and chaperone who happens to be – you guessed it – the woman who broke his heart years ago. But with the betrothal announced, neither Jason nor Caroline feels that they can end the commitment, and each thinks that the other wants the marriage to take place. Can they ever get out of this coil?
All four of the main characters are wonderful, and I truly enjoyed reading about them. It was fun to read about Jason and Caroline’s non-romance, because they were both very interesting, nice people – who happened to be completely wrong for each other. And although I’ve hardly mentioned Richard, he was probably my favorite character. He is the long-lost heir to an earldom, and while he is falling in love with Caroline, he is also quietly trying to decide whether he wants to be an earl. Although he is Jason’s complete opposite in personality, he is his equal in heroism.
The strength of the characters is in a way also a weakness. The book is not quite three hundred pages long, so while all the characters are terrific, I also wanted to see more of all of them. This could easily be two separate books, one about each couple. This would have given all of them the space they truly deserved. It also would have been nice to see what the book would have been like with more sensuality. As it stands, this book would make a nice addition to our upcoming new list, One Foot on the Floor, but I couldn’t help wondering what it would have been like as a Luscious Love Story.
Still, if you are a Putney fan, this book is not to be missed. Reggie Davenport, the hero of The Rake and the Reformer (rewritten and re-released in 1998 as the historical The Rake), is the villain in this book. It’s easy to see why Putney recast him as a hero though, because while he does some rather bad things, his basic humanity still shines through. Several other characters from The Diabolical Baron also make appearances in The Rake, so don’t be surprised if after reading one you suddenly feel the need to reread the other. If you missed The Diabolical Baron the first time around (as I did), it’s definitely worth your time now.