Desert Isle Keeper
The Miser of Mayfair
I brought up Marion Chesney on a recent blog post about some of authors of the classic ‘traditional regency’ romances, and I was surprised that we only had reviews of two of her books in our database (one under Chesney, and one under M.C. Beaton, which is the name her estate seems to be using to consolidate her large body of work.) The Miser of Mayfair is a 1986 comedy-romance which still makes me laugh, and I strongly recommend it.
Number 67 Clarges Street seems cursed, what with bad luck and death striking previous tenants. Added to that are a dishonest manager skimming salaries, and the staff – Rainbird, the butler; Mrs. Middleton, the cook; Joseph, the footman, maids Jenny, Lizzie, and Alice; and cook MacGregor – living on the brink of starvation. It seems heaven-sent when Mr. Roderick Sinclair lets the house – except, of course, he has hardly any money, either.
Mr. Sinclair inherited none of his brother’s fortune, but he did inherit his ward, a gorgeous young woman named Fiona. Aimless and often drunk, Sinclair decides to throw the dice by taking Fiona to London, where a good marriage for the stunning young lady might turn him a profit. En route, weather strands Fiona and her guardian with the Earl of Harrington at the home of an old pervert. Fiona decides to claim Sinclair as her father, not her guardian, and to proclaim him a miser to excuse their poverty. The first of many laugh-out-loud scenes kicks off at this impromptu house party and only escalates when the Fiona and Mr. Sinclair arrive at No. 67 and enlist the servants in the scheme, and when Fiona and the Earl start crossing paths in society.
I love Fiona, who puts on the front of abstracted stupidity while calmly bending the world to her will. The Earl’s unwitting fascination with her hidden cleverness is delicious. Behind his and Fiona’s courtship, the flaws and the heart of the supporting cast shine through. It’s delightful to see servants developed as characters in their own right, and to know that their stories will continue to grow in the next books in the series. And for those of you who, like me, did NOT watch Downton Abbey for the men upstairs, Rainbird in particular is terrific.
This book is, at this point, almost forty years old, but for the most part, it feels modern, with only one scene that has aged badly. Fiona breaks into the Earl’s apartments to try to find the letters which reveal her secret, and the Earl, catching her searching his jewelry box, assumes she is a thief. His response to that is a classic ‘forced seduction’ (read: sexual assault) of the 1980s, which here does not evolve into rape only because Rainbird intervenes and escorts Fiona out of the room. There have been a lot of conversations around things which were and weren’t acceptable, even at the time older titles were written, and about what should be done in reissues of those books. Hopefully, this review has given you the information you need to decide whether to give this one a try or not.
If you enjoy romp-style Regency comedies, and you’d like to see a little more of the people belowstairs, then definitely try The House for the Season series.