The Indifferent Earl

The Major Meets His Match
by Blair Bancroft
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20939-7
The Major Meets His Match is the tale of a reluctant heir who would rather be building bridges than running an estate. Major Charles Tyrone returned from seven years of war to found the Tyrone Company of Engineers. As the story opens, Charles is knee-deep in an icy Scottish stream, gauging stonework, when a messenger arrives from his distant relative, the elderly Earl of Wyverne. Charles’ cousin, the heir to the earldom, has been killed in a carriage accident that also claimed his wife’s life and left his teenage son in a coma. The elderly earl has suffered a stroke and may be dying. With nobody left who’s fit to assume the management of the estate, Charles has been sent for.

Charles grits his teeth and heads for Wyverne Abbey, where he finds that matters are indeed as dire as he’s been told. Young Julian hasn’t moved since being thrown from the carriage. The old Earl is very weak. The only surprise is the revelation that the Earl has a ward, Lady Vanessa Rayne, the orphaned daughter of a duke. Vanessa has been caring for Julian, in fact has been virtually managing the entire estate, since shortly after her arrival seven years earlier. Now an upstart soldier has come to Wyverne Abbey, which she has run competently for years. How dare he? How could the old Earl betray her this way?

Vanessa is sure that Julian has opened his eyes once or twice since the accident. She believes he’ll recover, and without the help of Major Charles Tyrone, thank you very much. When Charles insists on opening the sickroom to fresh air, Vanessa is horrified. It’s not the first time they’ll butt heads, especially since the wily old Earl would like nothing better than for Charles to marry Vanessa.

Vanessa is a shrew for much of the book, which didn’t endear her to me. Charles, who doesn’t even want to be there in the first place and is now saddles with a bossy noblewoman, begins referring to her as “Her Arrogant Ladyship”. The two of them are at loggerheads until one night in the garden, when Charles decides that Vanessa is actually sort of attractive by moonlight and not a bad companion when she’s not staring down her nose at him. In the meantime, Julian awakens, and somebody is out to put him to sleep – permanently. Charles has the perfect motive – but he has no interest in becoming the next earl. So who’s behind all these “accidents”?

The secondary characters really make this story. A couple of other cousins show up, one of whom is a London dandy with a great deal of substance below his foppish exterior, and one who is a local vicar but dreams of becoming an archbishop. There’s also a harridan of an aunt who’d love to barge in and run the Abbey herself. Vanessa is more than up to the challenge, and at least here she can put her haughtiness to use. The author does a great job of laying out red herrings, and the ending came as quite a surprise. If you like a bit of light suspense along with your Regency romance, you’ll be quite happy with the mystery thread in this story.

Unfortunately, the romance isn’t as strong. Vanessa eventually mellows out and becomes a character one can root for, but it’s a bumpy ride, at least for the first half of the book. Her prickly side crops up whenever she feels a bit out of sorts, and this didn’t strengthen the romance. Eventually Charles and Vanessa come to a meeting of the minds. If you’re willing to sit through her bouts of snottiness, you may find the romance much more satisfying than I did.

I recommend The Major Meets His Match for the mystery and the intriguing hero and secondary characters. The heroine is strictly up to your personal preference.

--Cathy Sova

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