The Truth About Leo
The Truth About Leo is the fourth book in Ms MacAlister’s Noble series, the first of which, Noble Intentions was released over a decade ago. Two more books followed, but Ms MacAlister turned her attention elsewhere after the third, and has only now returned to the Regency era with this new addition to the series.
I had a good idea of what I’d be getting when I requested this book. I reviewed the audiobook version of book one, Noble Intentions a while back, and said that it was “a well-done piece of romantic fluff” in the vein of a slapstick comedy, so I was looking forward to more of the same. I don’t know whether the humour I found in that audiobook came more from the performance than the material, or whether it’s just a better book, but whatever the reason, The Truth About Leo doesn’t measure up – it falls flat, and, because the author is trying too hard to be funny just – isn’t.
Leo Mortimer, Earl of March, works for the British government and is making his way to Berlin from Russia via Denmark. Stopping to rescue a kitten from a tree proves to be a very bad idea, because after heroic efforts on behalf of the imperilled feline, he is beaten, stabbed and left for dead in the back garden of the Yellow House, the residence of Her Serene Highness, the Princess Dagmar Marie Sophie of Sonderburg-Beck and her English companion, Julia.
Dagmar is in dire straits. Her cousin, the Crown Prince, who for some, unexplained reason detests her, is planning to evict her within a matter of days, and Dagmar has nowhere else to go. She has no other relatives she can turn to, she certainly doesn’t fancy the idea of living out the rest of her days in a convent, as her cousin has threatened, and even though she’s half-English, she cannot obtain passage to England due to the unforeseen lack of available transport because of the recent decimation of the Danish fleet.
It seems there is only one way she can possibly get out of Denmark, and that would be if she were the wife of an English officer. But where on earth is she going to find one of those at short notice? And even were she to find one, how can she convince him to marry her?
Yep. You’re way ahead of me.
And actually, the problem I had at this point is exactly the same as the one I had with the earlier book; the author tries to draw out the (supposed) humour in a situation by dragging out a misunderstanding until the reader is tempted to throw the book at the wall. (Although I was reading on my new Paperwhite, so no way was that going to happen!) But when Dagmar returns, exhausted, from a day traipsing around Copenhagen trying to either bring her cousin around or find a way out of Denmark, the fact that Julia tells her that the drunkard they’d found in their back garden earlier isn’t actually drunk, but hurt, and that he’s English just doesn’t register with her; her double-take comes about five minutes too late.
So Dagmar and Julia drag Leo inside, and in spite of the doctor’s pronouncement that he won’t live to see the morning, they care for him, Dagmar marries him, they take ship for England and he doesn’t die.
When he eventually recovers, Leo is by turns furious at Dagmar’s actions and unable to keep from ogling her over-large boobs. Which are mentioned in passing. Often.
Once returned to London, Leo has to find somewhere suitable to house his new wife, but his search for suitable accommodation is interrupted when Julia is arrested for murder. The mystery plot doesn’t really get off the ground – the author lays a few clues early on in the book, and the identity of the wrong-doer is pretty obvious, but the actual dénouement is silly and the events which lead to Leo’s deduction of whodunnit happen off screen, so there’s no real involvement for the reader.
Dagmar is clearly supposed to be kooky and ditzy – but while there are moments where she can be quite endearing, she’s just too ingenuous and wide-eyed to be anything but cartoonish. She’s incredibly curious about sex and seems to have spent much of her girlhood ogling the grooms and the footmen! – and her enthusiasm of course delights her new husband. But her utterances about her “lady secret” are so twee as to be vomit-inducing. And then there are the really crass moments, such as Leo’s monologue about shaving a hairy ass. Yeah. Not going back there. (Note to Ms MacAllister: On this side of the pond, an ass is a donkey, your arse is the thing you sit on.)
Leo is…um, I’m not sure what he is, because I didn’t get a sense of him as a character at all. He’s not bad looking, he has a terrific arse and nice hands, but other than that he’s barely two dimensional.
It’s a quick read, and while it wasn’t difficult to get through, I did find myself skimming occasionally, as there were chunks of it that just don’t move the story forward. The funniest scene is one in which Dagmar together with three of the other female characters (from earlier books) gets tipsy while attempting to work out the whys and wherefores of the murder accusation levelled at Julia.
But otherwise, if you’re looking for a story to make you giggle fairly frequently, I’d look elsewhere.