|Jo Beverley carries off a remarkable achievement in Lady Beware, the latest and possibly last in her Company of Rogue novels. In a world where the loud, the graphic and the sensational sell, she cultivates a silent and subtle build-up but rocks her readers to their core. Her craft deserves close attention, but it is the unusual combination of familial comfort and risqué pleasure that makes this book a winner.
Horatio Cave, Lord Darien attended Eton at the same time as the Rogues, but he was not admitted into their exulted company. His violent and scandalous family history, which includes murder, madness and Italian opera singers, had already branded him. His belligerent behavior didn't help. Even good-natured Dare (the opium-addicted hero of To Rescue a Rogue) took issue and warned, "Cave Canem." Well versed in Latin, the Eton schoolboys immediately recognized the pun (the inscription cave canem, or "Beware the Dog", was carved on the doors of Roman homes). The name stuck, and Cave has never forgiven Dare or the Rogues for it.
In the meantime, Cave has made a very different name for himself as a hero of the Napoleonic wars. His bravery isn't enough to whitewash his family name. So when Dare's honor in the battlefield is questioned, he sees it as an opportunity to redeem himself. He coerces Dare's sister Thea Debenham into accepting a bargain: if she acts as his betrothed, thereby gaining him the social respect he craves, he will clear her brother's reputation.
It is easy to see what this set up could have become: a predictable story about a false engagement that eventually becomes a real one. That is not the path Thea and Cave take. He immediately does his part but allows Thea to withdraw from hers. Her mother, on the other hand, is determined to pay off the family debt . More naturally cautious, Thea remains wary of this dark, dangerous stranger, but she is also intrigued — and secretly thrilled.
Beverley brings her characters to life by examining them in their social universe. A former soldier, Cave is very much a man's man, and it is mostly through his interaction with other men that we discover his loyalty and decency. He deploys all the authority which goes with his rank, but never abuses it: there is no condescension or false camaraderie in his concern for his former soldiers. Similarly, Thea's unspoken anxieties and elegant poise are seen most clearly in her family relationships and her female friendships.
Beverley ensures her characters are multifaceted and doesn't overlook the erotic dimension of Thea and Cave's relationship. She pens several daring encounters, but overall subtlety is the key to her art. In one scene, Cave strokes Thea's gloved finger with his. There is more sensual tension in that caress than in some of the most explicit descriptions I have recently read.
Throughout the novel, Beverley sets her own leisurely pace and draws her enraptured readers towards a firework finale. Ominous hints maintain the novel's tension and the reader's curiosity. The bad things come as no surprise but still hold us at a fever pitch.
No doubt about it: Lady Beware is yet another jewel in Beverley's heavily-decorated crown.