Desert Isle Keeper
The Rake's Retreat
The Rake’s Retreat is a lively romp made special by two wonderfully matched and humorous main characters, plus a couple of secondary characters who are almost as entertaining.
Lovely Lovelace Wellesley, leading lady of her parents’ theatre troupe, Wellesley’s Wandering Minstrels, wanders where she shouldn’t in the Kent countryside and is witness to a murder. Unfortunately, the murderer sees Lovelace as well. Lovelace sprains an ankle as she runs from the murderer and is found by the infamous Beecham Bryce, London’s most notorious rake, who is currently stuck in the country taking care of his father’s estate. Bryce doesn’t believe the dramatic young actress’ story, but allows her to take him to the scene of the crime, where they find nothing.
Enter the real heroine of the story, the Lady Jemima Vale, who is taking some time to sketch nature while waiting for her brother to return to the inn where they are staying. Bryce and Lovelace find her, and in the course of the conversation, Bryce notices blood stains on Jemima’s dress and sketching stool. Jemima is horrified to realize she had been sitting on the very spot the corpse had previously occupied. She is almost as horrified to learn Bryce’s identity, immediately recognizing him as the black sheep of the ton. In the meantime, Lovelace’s parents have left the inn where they had been dining, and thinking Lovelace safely asleep in the back of one of the wagons, have taken off for London, leaving their daughter stranded. Not daring to return her to the inn for fear the murderer would find her, Bryce takes Lovelace back to his estate, with Jemima accompanying as chaperone, where they spend the rest of the book trying to stay safe until the murderer is identified and apprehended.
The magic of this story lies in the characters. Bryce is a true rake, a shameless womanizer who immediately sets his sights on the “rather long in the tooth” Jemima. Jemima, being a ripe old twenty-nine, is resigned but still not happy about her spinsterhood. She is amusing as she anxiously inspects herself for any sign of approaching middle-age, and alternatively berates herself for either acting too “missish,” or like the spinster she believes herself to be. This amuses Bryce to no end, and he never misses an opportunity for a verbal jab. Jemima gives as good as she gets, however, and both are well matched in wit and strength of character. Both Bryce and Jemima are damaged goods in one sense or another, and they both develop and grow throughout the tale.
Lovelace is beautiful, but totally self-absorbed, and offers laughs as the butt of other’s jokes. She develops into a sympathetic character without losing her entertainment value as the story proceeds, and is set off by another secondary character, who will remain nameless to prevent giving too much away. With only one or two exceptions, all the secondary characters are fully enough developed to provide a solid framework for the main characters.
The minus in the A- tale comes from a few minor nits. There are a couple of characters who serve only to set up certain situations between Bryce and Jemima, and these characters were a bit underdeveloped, especially compared to the other secondary characters. Also, I was able to accurately predict several of the plot twists which keeps this from being a truly great mystery. It is a wonderful romance, however, and a great way to spend an afternoon.