Who's That Earl
Who’s That Earl turned out to be a fun read that surprised me – in good and bad ways – along the way. The good – I really liked the hero and heroine and their witty banter and sexual tension. The bad – the intrigue is too easily solved and the villains too easily vanquished. But in the end I did enjoy the story and so the book receives a qualified recommendation – if you like your historical romances quick and sweet and your intrigue light, this is likely to be a good read for you.
Seven years earlier, Miss Jane Quayle waltzed with Lieutenant Thomas Sutherland at a country dance and sparks flew. The next morning, when Thomas went to Jane’s house to call on her father, Mr. Quayle had declared he had no daughter and slammed the door in his face. A few hours later, a confused Thomas received new orders from his commander and later that day set sail for the island of Dominica. He never forgot Jane nor ceased to wonder what happened to her.
After returning from the dance, Jane had been cast from her home. Forced to fend for herself, Jane relied on her writing skills, eventually penning gothic novels under the name of Robin Ratliff. Seven years later, presenting herself as Mrs. Higginbotham, Mr. Ratliff’s amanuensis, she is renting Dunnock Castle in Scotland. Her novels have been wildly successful but have also garnered the attention of those who feel her stories are too lurid. Mr. Ratliff has received threatening letters and to make things worse, Jane has heard from her man of business that there is a new Earl of Dunnock and she may have to vacate the castle. Fate (and a strange twist of Scottish inheritance law) has brought intelligence officer Thomas Sutherland back to Scotland as the new Earl of Dunnock.
When Jane and Thomas are reunited both play it cool. And both know the other is not telling the complete truth.
For a long moment, he simply looked at her, poised on the edge of speech but not speaking. She felt certain that the mischievous sparkle in his eyes, the slight play of amusement around his lips were matched by a similar expression on her own face. As if each of them knew that the other was not being entirely truthful but, instead of being dismayed or frustrated by the discovery, was intrigued by it.
What did it say about either of them that the prospect of a cat-and-mouse game was so appealing?
Thomas has mixed feelings about becoming the new Earl and decides not to tell anyone at the castle his true reason for being there. He spies one of the threatening letters on Jane’s desk and announces he was hired by Robin Ratliff to investigate the threats. Well, Jane knows that this is not true, Thomas doesn’t know that what he declared is impossible and Jane has no clue why Thomas is really there. Here’s where the novel first surprised me – I assumed I would have to slog through a hundred pages of everyone disassembling to each other only getting to the truth during the last chapters. Instead, Jane and Thomas tell each other the truth early on, and instead of the conflict being a Big Misunderstanding that could have been resolved with some honesty, the story focuses on their reunion, the events that happened seven years before, and the mystery of the threatening letters. Ahhh, what a breath of fresh air.
Jane and Thomas are truly delightful main characters. I was especially enamored of Jane – a woman who takes charge of her own destiny, not in a brash ‘get out of my way’ manner but in the style of someone who knows her value and pursues her desires. When the opportunity for a sexual encounter with Thomas presents itself, she doesn’t hem and haw about loss of virginity or what her desires say about her, she just goes for it. Another good surprise.
The bad surprise though was really unexpected. The mystery of who wrote the threatening letters and the resolution of the mystery were both too short and too unsatisfying. After a buildup of the threat to Jane, the vanquishing of that threat was disappointing. And when a second challenge was introduced late in the story, that – again – was too easily solved. I was prepared for an intrigue feast and I got a cucumber sandwich (nothing against cucumber sandwiches but when expecting a feast…)
Who’s That Earl is the first book in the Love and Let Spy series. I love the premise of the books – the London spymaster wants to see his intelligence officers happy, especially after the dangerous work he has asked them to do in the past, and so he goes from spymaster to matchmaker, happily pairing his jaded spies with ladies worthy of them. This all sounds delightful to me. But the subtitle of the book is “An Exciting and Witty Regency Love Story”. I’d have to say that Who’s That Earl has “witty” and “love” down, but needs to work more on “exciting”. A little more development on the intrigue part would have made this a more solid recommendation.