The Scandalous Life of a True Lady
I have been fan of Barbara Metzger ever since I read Bething’s Folly back in 1980s. She is one of the few authors I buy on name alone because she always succeeds in amusing me. The Scandalous Life of a True Lady did not disappoint in that regard, though it was not as laugh out loud funny as her other books.
Harry Harmon is the illegitimate son of an Earl, and half-brother to the hero of Truly Yours. Like all members of the Royce clan, he has the ability to recognize truth. For him, lies taste bitter. He uses his talent in the war department to ferret out which espionage rumors have merit while masquerading as the mysterious Major Harrison. As the reigning spymaster, death threats are a fact of life, which adds to his desire to get out of the business now that the war is over. He plans for the Major’s demise to occur while he is nowhere in London. Because a traitor will be attending Lord Gorham’s houseparty, which is a send-off for the lord’s mistress, Harry must also attend, and he needs a certain type of woman to accompany him. Simone fits the bill.
Simone Ryland, a well brought up young woman, is on the verge of making an important decision. Her lack of success as a governess, and the resulting lack of funds, lead her to make a career change. She approaches the most “respectable” brothel in the neighborhood seeking employment. The madame finds her too genteel to employ, though, but offers another possibility: to enter into an arrangement with Harry Harmon and serve as Harry’s mistress during the houseparty. Although Simone initially agrees, she later changes her mind. Her upbringing is at war with her need to provide for herself and a younger brother. When she learns that there is to be a contest with a £10,000 prize, she finally decides to go with Harry, but as his platonic mistress.
The contest for Queen of Courtesans is like a modern day beauty pageant: The woman who acquires the most points during various activities is declared the winner. Each woman has a reason why they need/want to win. Claire, for instance, is about to lose her protector of 12 years, Alice is very pregnant, and Sandaree is in a foreign country and has an abusive protector. While Metzger does not avoid the seamier side of mistressing, neither does she dwell upon it. The antics of the contestants and the one-upmanship keep the story from bogging down in the negative.
The author does try to establish distinguishing characteristics for each person, but keeping track of who’s who amongst the party’s ten couples was difficult. Also, Harry occasionally appeared to be too blunt to be a successful spymaster, asking the gentlemen outright if they had heard of any treason plot. These are the flaws in what was otherwise a very enjoyable read.
While I did not have any bite-my-cheeks-to-keep-from-laughing-in-public moments, I did chuckle, grin and smile throughout The Scandalous Life of a True Lady. I can recommend it as an amusing diversion.