His Heart's Delight

His Last Lover by Mary Blayney
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7181-7
James Braedon, Viscount Crandall, heir to the Marquis of Braeford, arrives home at Braemoor after a brief visit to London to discover the mansion in flames. The marquis suffered an attack of apoplexy and is not in his right mind. James has been unsuccessful in convincing the trustees that his father is incompetent and he should be given the authority to run the estate. The fire appears to have begun in his fatherís room so he wonders if his father is responsible. James and his father have a strained relationship, and James would rather the whole mansion had burned down.

Shortly after the fire is extinguished, a stranger, a young woman, asks him if anyone has been killed. She insists that family is what is important, that buildings donít matter.

The long-time housekeeper resigns and her husband, the butler, as well. She insists that the fire is simply the last straw. James is in a dilemma, how to hire a housekeeper on short notice.

A widow who has been residing with the vicar and his family is recommended as a possible housekeeper. Marguerite Voisson had hopes of getting a position as a French teacher at a nearby young ladiesí academy but was disappointed. She has no experience as a housekeeper, but caring for the vicarís children has begun to wear on her. She is glad to be offered the housekeeperís position even on a monthís trial basis.

Soon Marguerite, a perfect model of management, efficiency, and compassion, is making changes that will improve the lives of many on the estate and attract the interest of the Viscount.

His Last Lover suffers from a too-perfect heroine and from too little story for its length. The story has a linear plot. James is confronted by a bunch of problems, and one by one Marguerite solves them all. In time it becomes tedious. Poorly paced, the relatively simple plot requires quite a bit of filler - such as paragraphs-long description of characters waking up - to stretch the page length. Itís only towards the end that the story picks up speed, and everything is quickly - too quickly - resolved.

Although the main characters are given a history - Margueriteís the sole survivor of her family; Jamesís emotionally scarred by his motherís elopement with a dancing master -they never really come alive. One problem is that Marguerite has spent two-thirds of her life in England and lived with an English family but still speaks with a French accent and tosses French phrases into her speech. It all comes across as affected. Children are linguistic sponges - Margueriteís English should be as clear as a native speaker. Other than providing an explanation for the devastation of her family, Margueriteís French origins add nothing to the story.

Furthermore, Marguerite is an absolute paragon of virtue and compassion. She suffers; she perseveres; she triumphs. Her perfection strains credulity. No problem is too complicated for her to resolve quickly. The marquis has suffered the aftereffects of his apoplexy for some time, but Marguerite is the first one to understand how to deal with him. His nurse hits the bottle far too frequently, but Marguerite quickly resolves that. It was believed that Jamesís mother took her jewels with her when she eloped; Marguerite finds them.

Jamesís and Margueriteís romance doesnít come across as credible. It seems mostly a matter of proximity; their conflicting personalities donít promise a lifetime of compatibility. Moreover, the disparity in their social and economic position isnít treated realistically. In Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy has difficulty accepting that Elizabeth comes from a family socially well beneath his own. Margueriteís family background, however, seems not to concern James at all.

His Last Lover is the second in a series featuring the Braedon family and is the sequel to His Heartís Delight, but reading the first isnít necessary before reading this one. Readers who enjoyed the first in the series may want to check out this one, but others will want to think twice.

--Lesley Dunlap

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