The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel
The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is your basic rake-meets-wallflower story, and while that’s a very oft-used trope, Jennifer McQuiston has done an excellent job of creating a readable, light-hearted romp that has just enough depth to keep it from feeling insubstantial. There’s an element of mystery to the story, too, which is well played-out and which doesn’t get in the way of the progression of the romance or detract from it.
Readers of the first book in this series, Diary of an Accidental Wallflower, will probably remember the heroine’s younger brother, Geoffrey Westmore, as a teenage terror; forever getting into scrapes, playing practical jokes and generally causing mayhem. Around a decade later, with university and a short stint in the Navy (during which time he saw active service in the Crimea), behind him, not very much has changed. Geoffrey – or West, as he now prefers to be known – is still a hellraiser although the nature of some of his exploits has changed somewhat, as the eagerness displayed by half the ladies in the ton to leap into his bed will testify. That’s not to say he’s lost the taste for playing practical jokes, though. Many of those are as legendary as his reputation with women, with the result that there is a two-inch thick file with his name on it in the office of the local constable
From that description, West sounds an absolute fright and the sort of “hero” one might not want to touch with the proverbial ten-foot-pole. Fortunately however, for all his inappropriate behaviour, he’s a loveable rogue; there is something endearing about him which saves him from coming across as a complete arsehole, and, as soon becomes clear, there is more substance beneath those rakehell ways than it would at first seem.
Miss Mary Channing (sister of Patrick Channing, hero of Moonlight on My Mind) has left her Yorkshire home and travelled to London to be with her very pregnant twin sister in the final months of her confinement. Mary is quiet and self-effacing, much preferring to immerse herself in the romance and adventure she finds in her favourite books than to get out there and live her own life. To be fair, she has some reason for her caution, having lost both her eldest brother and father to violent deaths and almost having lost Patrick when he was accused of murder. But she has become extremely introverted over the years and has, as her sister remarks “lost her spark.”
At Eleanor’s insistence, Mary attends a literary salon at which Mr. Dickens will be in attendance, but before she can greet the great man, she slips away from the crush, needing to find some peace and quiet. Finding the comfort of the library, she starts to relax, only to discover she is ensconced in a darkened room with a veritable scoundrel. Mary isn’t partial to scoundrels, recognising that the villains in her books are almost always handsome, charming and up to no good – and she is sure that this man, with his golden good-looks and raffish smile is a complete villain. When he whisks her behind a curtain she is even more sure of it – until a group of people enters the room and starts to discuss a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria (which isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds – she actually survived several attempts on her life during her long reign).
Once the schemers have left, Mary wastes no time in making her escape – only to run into several people in the doorway who immediately assume her to have been alone in the room with one of the worst rakes in London – Geoffrey Westmore.
If Mary is not to be ruined, West will have to offer for her – which he duly does, only to be soundly rejected. Mary is far more interested in discovering who is behind the assassination plot and wonders why West hasn’t already gone to the police. In fact, West has done that very thing – only to discover that his reputation for playing outrageous practical jokes has preceded him and that no-one at Scotland Yard will take him seriously. When Mary tried to explain to Eleanor, she accused Mary of having her head too stuffed-full of plots from her books and refused to believe her, which leaves West and Mary with only one alternative.
They will have to find the wrong-doers themselves.
While West is keen to keep Mary out of his investigations because he doesn’t want her to come to any harm, he soon realises that her insight and general knowledge – gleaned from books, of course – is useful and that she is probably safer by his side than left to her own devices. The sexual tension between them bubbles along nicely, their verbal sparring – peppered with West’s naughty double-entendres – is fun and their romance proceeds at a sensible pace, although I admit that West’s transformation from bed-hopping lady-killer to one-woman-man does happen rather quickly. I do, however, applaud the author for including the fact that West’s brother-in-law is a physician who made sure he knew about the importance of using condoms! It’s not something that comes up all that often in historicals so readers often have to ignore the probability of the experienced hero’s having caught something nasty in the course of his – er – exploits. Thankfully, there’s no need to suspend disbelief on that count here.
The identity of the plotters is fairly easy to work out, but there’s a nice twist at the end which reveals that there was rather more going on than West and Mary had at first thought. And while the book is a fairly light in tone overall, the emotional depth I mentioned earlier comes from the way in which Ms. McQuiston takes a look at the trauma faced by combatants returning from war. Once an easy-going young man with a bright future and ambitions to study architecture, West’s year in the Navy affected him profoundly; and once that becomes apparent, it makes it easier to understand his unwillingness to grow up and act like a responsible adult. Mary, too, has her demons to conquer and the way she and West support each other to help overcome their fears is very well done.
The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is an entertaining, well-paced story told with intelligence and humour and I’m sure anyone looking to read a scoundrel/bluestocking romance with an added dash of mystery will enjoy it.