The Gamble is a book that starts out with an intriguing premise, sets up some interesting characters, abruptly has the heroine make several blatantly stupid moves to keep the plot going, then unravels completely at the end. Too bad, too. Joan Wolf writes very appealing characters, and I had been looking forward to this book. Well, I gambled my $6.50, and lost.
Georgiana (Georgie) Newbury discovers that her hard-drinking, heavy-gambling, recently-murdered father had been a blackmailer. Alone in the world now, penniless, and with an unmarriageable younger sister to support, Georgie decides the very best thing to do is to blackmail one of her father’s five victims into sponsoring her for a Season so she can catch a husband (this was the “intriguing premise” I spoke of earlier). Of the five candidates, Lord Philip Winterdale (an aforementioned “interesting character”) is the only man who could conceivably sponsor Georgie without too many questions being asked. So Georgie goes to Winterdale and states her case, but not before writing long letters to the other four victims telling them they can breathe easy, she knows all about what they did, but she’s not going to tell, and she’s not going to continue to blackmail them as her father had done because she burned the evidence, honestly, I really did, Love, Georgie (Stupid Move #1).
Philip Winterdale’s late uncle had been the original blackmail victim, but, apparently to irritate his pinch-faced aunt, the new lord agrees to Georgie’s plan and has her move in with him, his haughty aunt, and his shy cousin Catherine, whose come out he is also sponsoring. Lord Winterdale is intelligent and handsome, but he stays away from his house, and from Georgie, a lot, and because we have only Georgie’s point-of-view to go on (this book is written in the first person), we don’t know why he stays away so much. When Georgie’s sweet and docile younger sister Anne comes to stay, the sisters are threatened by one of the victims, Lord Marsh, but Georgie doesn’t mention this to Winterdale (Stupid Move #2). When Anne is abducted by the vicious, child-molesting Marsh, Georgie and Philip go off to rescue Anne, but end up spending the night alone together. Nothing between them happens, but Georgie’s reputation is ruined, so Winterdale insists they wed.
It becomes obvious that one of the four blackmail victims is trying to kill Georgie, so Winterdale tells Georgie to stay in the house where it’s safe. Nothing pressing requires that she go out, but out she goes ( Stupid Move #3) to a crowded, darkly lit party at Vauxhall, where she saunters down an even more darkly lit, solitary garden path. Now here’s the shocker – she gets kidnapped and nearly raped and murdered! Boy, I never saw that coming! She gets away, gets home, and immediately begins how to plan to single-handedly draw the murderer out in the open. Again, her husband tells her to stay put, but she goes out again to a huge, unprotected estate where anybody could grab her or gun her down at any time (Stupid Move #4). Despite careful planning (she has a pen-knife sewn into the hem of her dress – a more-than-adequate defense for a pistol shot at 50 feet), the killer manages to capture her (the clever beast!), and it looks like curtains for our Georgie.
Stories told in the first person are automatically hindered because we are never privy to the hero’s thoughts, background, or motivations unless they are addressed in a conversation with the main character. While Joan Wolf has been a master at being able to pull this off in the past, it doesn’t work here; there’s just too much about the hero we need to know and never get to find out. Plus, the hero and heroine are apart more often than they are together, and I want my hero and heroine all over each other all the time.
Well, I gave it my best, but, all-in-all, The Gamble was just not in the cards.