The Duke's Obsession
I picked up this category-length novel because I was intrigued by the idea of the heroine’s character having a “penchant for numbers”. I’ve come across quite a few books lately where the hero is some sort of mathematical or scientific whizz-kid, but it’s less common to find a heroine where that is the case.
Unfortunately, however, I was destined to be disappointed, as it seems that the heroine’s mathematical superpowers are pretty much limited to adding, subtracting and balancing the books.
Daphne Farrington has come to London from Boston with her brother, Thomas, who is visiting to check on their father’s shipping business. Daphne and her numerical superpowers are looking over the paperwork relating to a business deal they are about to conclude when she discovers that the documents are inaccurate and that the terms of the agreement have been surreptitiously altered.
So she does what any stereotypical, brash, American female would do and barges into her brother’s office steaming mad to share her discovery with her brother and his guests, Edward, the Duke of Waverly and the duke’s man of business, Mr Burnham. Needless to say, Burnham attempts to mask his guilt with indignation and by pointing out that Daphne is a mere woman and thus incapable of understanding the intricacies of such things.
Once Daphne is proved correct, Burnham leaves, but not before shaking his fist at her screaming “I’ll get you my pretty!” Well, no, he doesn’t – I just made that up, but he might as well have done, as he then proceeds to encourage Farrington’s investors to remove their cargos from their ships.
Thomas is naturally pretty pissed off at this turn of events, and tells Daphne she has to fix it by making the Duke aware of what’s happening and asking for his help. But the thing is, Daphne absolutely hates Englishmen and especially hates titled Englishmen, because she blames them for the death of their brother after he’d been impressed into service on an English ship several years previously. And not only that, but all titled Englishmen are arrogant, pompous, selfish bastards who should all go the way of Louis XVI.
But Daphne does as her brother asks and speaks to the very handsome Duke of Waverly who, in spite of his being a duke, is neither pompous nor a bastard, and whose touch makes her tingle. He agrees to help by investing in their shipping firm – on one condition. Daphne must give him the chance to prove to her that he’s not like all the other English nobility and see him as a man rather than as a duke.
To this end, he invites the Farringtons to a house party at his country estate – and while there Daphne’s mathematical superpowers and her ability to subtract one from five and get four instead of three shows that Burnham has been cheating his employer for years and that the estate books aren’t merely cooked, they’ve been served up au gratinée avec un soupçon de sauce Roquefort.
As for the “dark secret” that may “ruin his chance at happiness” – pfft! It’s pretty obvious from the outset what this is, and it’s also obvious that because Edward is keen to put Daphne in the picture before anyone else does, he’s going to leave it too late, thus ensuring their eternal separation. (Woe!)
Not only does it turn out to be a dumb secret, but rather than having Daphne come to terms with the knowledge, the author wimps out and instead has it turn out to be someone else’s fault all along.
The story, such as it is, isn’t really enough to fill even a category-length book. It’s slow-moving, and even the old cliché of “we must seek shelter from this terrible storm in this little cottage!” is wasted as there is no ensuing rumpy-pumpy to pass the time. Besides being one of those stereotypical breath-of-fresh-air, free-thinking, outspoken Americans that so often appear in the pages of Historical Romance, Daphne is a completely unsympathetic heroine. Edward quite rightly calls her – more than once – on the fact that she refuses to see past her prejudices. Her reaction to the “secret” when it’s revealed towards the end is ridiculously over the top, although Edward’s isn’t particularly helpful either. He’s much easier to like, but I couldn’t get my head around the fact that a thirty-five year old man would have put up with such a repellent and interfering mother for so long. Oh, he tells her where to get off, but I got the impression that up to this point, he’d been one of those men who just switched off when she started talking and agreed with her for a quiet life. Which isn’t an especially attractive quality in a romantic hero.
The writing is workmanlike at best, and the characterisation barely manages to be two-dimensional. There’s no depth or sophistication to the story and there are a number of typos, words used incorrectly and other simple errors – for example, crumpets are not made using sugar and a “deduction” is not an arithmetical term meaning “subtraction”.
If you want a quick, entertaining read for a wet afternoon – or even one in the sun – I suggest you look elsewhere for it.