Wicked Little Secrets
What disappointed me the most about this book was the shallowness. The “wickedness” wasn’t that wicked, the heroine kept getting away with TSTL decision-making, and the rakehell hero was smoke without fire. It’s not a bad light read, and the climax is particularly funny, but I had been hoping for better.
Vivienne Taylor’s family is broke, so they’re relying on her marriage to John Vandergrift to bail out the family finances. But her friendship with her next-door neighbor, rake Viscount Dashiell, is a threat to the snow-white reputation Vandergrift demands from his fiancee. Add in a blackmail scheme involving Vivienne’s aunt which must be solved by venturing into brothels and seeing dirty paintings and etchings, and some sort of art theft ring, and Vivienne’s future is constantly in peril.
Vivienne is beautiful – so beautiful that even women are struck dumb at the sight of her, but apparently not beautiful enough to get more than one marriage offer. She’s also hell-bent on doing everything herself, even if there are alternatives which make a lot more sense. Maybe she’s read enough Garwoods to know that beautiful, feisty heroines can walk alone into Seven Dials or auction themselves in brothels and come out just fine. Somewhere, Mary Balogh heroines are wondering who they ticked off to end up in books where actions have consequences.
Dashiell is a rake. A wicked, wicked rake. How do we know? He tells us so. Constantly. What did he do? As far as I can tell, he’s broken the hearts of courtesans and actresses, and occasionally carried on with married women. Maybe I’m jaded, but I’ve read enough wickedness to find Dashiell unimpressive. And one character’s oft-cited sexual “perversion” would barely be enough to get a book starring him to “hot” status. Come on, Victorians. You could do better. Or, I suppose, worse.
In addition to generic characters, there are some plot inconsistencies. Dashiell is too broke to buy some of his beloved antiquities but later offers to loan Vivienne’s family the money she needs. The art plot was too complicated for the small amount of pages spent explaining it, and I’m not sure if the final reveal felt unexpected because it was clever or because I hadn’t really realized there was a mystery going on in the first place and thus didn’t look for any clues. Multiple references to Japanese culture when Commodore Perry’s visit was still ten years off bothered the historian in me, but I know it might not bother others.
The book is a comedy, but the humor was hit-or-miss for me. I didn’t laugh when a jealous lover smashed irreplaceable antiquities at Dashiell’s house, when an old earl exposed himself in Vivienne’s aunt’s backyard, or when people got tankingly drunk to deal with their emotional problems. I did laugh at Dashiell’s highly original way of disrupting the auction for Vivienne, and a lot of what kept the book out of the D range was that scene alone.
I also laughed when Dashiell apologized for disappointing Vivienne:
“Why did you leave me?” she asked him. “Because I was a scared little boy who – you see, my mother abandoned me when I was a small child and I’m not sure what that has to do with my problems, but I’m just afraid to be vulnerable and -”
The only problem is, I’m not sure it was supposed to be funny.