Desert Isle Keeper
The Rake (#57 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on March 15, 1998
Nobody can write nicer heroes than Mary Jo Putney. Sure, they’re flawed. They often have mammoth hurdles to overcome, and they don’t always know how to say “I love you” even when they feel it to the depths of their souls. But most of Ms. Putney’s heroes are, at their core, right-thinking, stalwart, warm, generous, devoted, and loving men. And each and every one of them yearns for a woman of equal strength and intelligence to keep forever by his side. Reginald Davenport is just such a hero.
Nobody can write independent, capable, smart, womanly heroines better than Mary Jo Putney. They are rarely ingenues, being instead real women who have been faced with major emotional or physical setbacks, and who have had the courage to step up to their trials and come out winners. While strong enough to find happiness without a husband, each and every one of them yearns for a man of equal strength and intelligence to keep forever by her side. Alyson Blakeford is just such a heroine.
As a child of eight, Reggie Davenport lost his entire, much-loved family and was sent to live with an uncle. Though he was a responsible and intelligent boy, through his uncle’s deliberate neglect and intentional malice, Reggie, at 37, has become a wastrel and a drunkard. Handsome and fit, he can hide his drunkenness when he wants to, but he knows in his soul his life of debauchery is slowly killing him. When confronted over his drinking problem, iron-willed Reggie claims, “I can stop any time I want!” Anyone who has ever heard those words uttered by someone they love, knows they have the power to strike right to the heart. For this is one of life’s great lies, and the only person who believes the lie is the alcoholic.
Through the kindness and fairness of his cousin, Richard, Reggie is suddenly given another chance at life when Strickland, Reggie’s childhood home, is signed over to him free and clear. It’s a make-or-break situation, and Reggie knows it.
The reason Strickland has fared so well over the last four years is due to the efforts of its steward, A.E. Weston – Lady Alys to her friends. Alys (Blakeford) Weston was not a typical young girl. Tall, awkward, and self-conscious, she was emotionally devastated at 18 by a man she loved, whom she thought loved her. Her self-confidence in tatters, Alys leaves her home and immense wealth behind to take up work as a teacher, then governess. Circumstances ultimately lead her to the stewardship of Strickland where she excels and causes the estate’s profits to soar. Along with her other massive responsibilities, she has become guardian of three children, Meredith (Merry), Peter, and William.
Reggie and Alys are written so perfectly, that from the instant they meet, they are for all intents and purposes, married at that moment. They like each other, are comfortable with each other, each care what happens to the other, and strive to be a friend to the other. They slowly discover preconceived ideas about each other prove false, and quietly begin the slide into love. Because they each possess a razor-sharp wit, wonderful wry humor is sprinkled throughout the entire story. I loved it!
While both Reggie and Alys have mountains yet to climb, or rock-bottoms yet to hit, it is their developing relationship that gives the other the courage necessary to face their demons, put their pasts behind them, and build a loving future together. It’s a desperate trip, especially for Reggie – but his essential self is so fine, we root for him the whole way.
This is just an excellent book; beautifully written with lovely characters (and pets) in the supporting roles. (Might Lord Randolph Lennox get his own story? He’s another Putney man I’d like to see meet his match!)
If I hadn’t been led to anticipate a powerful love scene, The Rake would have been virtually flawless. The sexual tension between the characters builds and builds (and builds and builds), but the payoff doesn’t match the expectation. “Is that all?” I heard myself say. I felt cheated in that one regard only.
The Rake has Major Keeper written all over it. Thanks, Mary Jo, for yet another outstanding read.
LLB: Mary Jo's The Rake and the Reformer is a Regency that effectively stretched the boundaries of what was acceptable in the Regency sub-genre. She decided to re-work her classic into an historical while remaining true to the storyline. If you've read both versions, we'd love to hear from you.