The Quiet Gentleman
Good prose is the one thing that can elevate a book from greatness to splendor, so when I want a real Regency I turn to Georgette Heyer. However, The Quiet Gentleman is proof positive that excellent prose alone does not an excellent book make.
Gervase Frant, newly minted Earl of St. Erth, has finally come home after serving in the Napoleonic Wars. His younger cousin Martin hates him, his older and kinder cousin is always absent, his stepmother is a sniffy gorgon, his stepmother’s companion Drusilla is too plain for interest, and on top of all that someone wants him dead. What to do?
And that’s about it. With Georgette Heyer half the fun is the ride, and that isn’t even true here. The mystery murderer plot is not very exciting and the solution will be spotted leagues away; plus it’s resolved in a reasonable, adult, and thoroughly lukewarm manner. There is a sub-plot involving the neighborhood belle and her romances (the source of Martin’s hate), but the conflict is lackluster and easily resolved. Most of the characters receive perfunctory development, enough that they could not quite be called cardboard, but without that spark of originality that is the hallmark of a memorable book.
As for the romance, well, every Georgette Heyer fan knows that sometimes you have to take whatever scraps you get. A book like Devil’s Cub has protagonists and cracking good dialogue that make those scraps worth every syllable (see AAR’s A+ review). The Quiet Gentleman has a “delightfully practical heroine” and an earl of quiet enigma, and I presume they will deal well together. But it was bloody hard to confirm considering we don’t get into Drusilla’s head until the three-quarter mark, and by then it was too late because I’d seen nothing thus far except excessive pragmatism. As for St. Erth, his inner thoughts consist wholly of detached questioning regarding his would-be murderer; of his feelings and emotions there is not one jot. Without a glimpse into his emotions he appears strangely perspicacious and infallible (except when he gets shot), and falls very suddenly in love with Drusilla. These weren’t scraps – they were dust motes.
A few years ago, when I read The Quiet Gentleman for the first time, I would likely have excused the weak characterization in favor of the Heyer style, which is admittedly as scintillating as ever. But I suppose in the interim I read more of her books, and knew that she could write a large cast of interesting characters, plot a decent story, make us laugh, and include a good love story in the bargain. And this time around, when evaluated on its own, not to mention comparatively, The Quiet Gentleman falls short.