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The Chester Charade by Gayle Buck
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19543-4
**
Very few authors these days write romance from a single point of view, and after reading Gayle Buck's latest Regency romance, I think I understand why. While there is no doubt that this writing technique permits the author to view the world as a single character views it (in this case, the heroine) and while it effectively illuminates her uncertainties and questions about the romance, in The Chester Charade at least, the technique resulted in a certain flatness that limited my engagement with the story.

Miss Charity Cummings is twenty-five and unwed, much to the dismay of her female relatives and friends. But Charity enjoys her life. She acts as her brother Henry's hostess, spends the season and "little season" in London. And every autumn, she and her brother host a houseparty at the family estate, Chester, where the hunting is exceptional and the company is usually entertaining.

Charity is a little concerned about this year's party, for the company is very heterogeneous. Her brother Archibald and his spoiled and flirtatious wife will be in attendance. Her friend Merrill, Lady Peters, is coming, without her husband. Her brother has invited the Bottles, a somewhat vulgar and encroaching couple and their house guests, the lively widow Mrs. Dabney and her cousin and companion Miss Paige. Her late father's friend, the old roue, Sir Roger Highfield has arrived, as have two of her brother's friends. And of course, dear Aunt Serena and her three obnoxious pugs are due any moment.

But the projected guest who puts Charity somewhat out of countenance is the Honorable Jeffrey Halston, who is coming with Merrill's brother Gabriel. Six years earlier, Jeffrey had been first Charity's friend and then her ardent suitor. When she twice rejected his proposal, he had married another. But now he is a widower, and Charity's friends and relatives are agog at what his intentions might be now. Everyone thought she had been a fool to reject him; perhaps he has come to renew his suit.

Much of The Chester Charade centers on the rigors of hosting a houseparty. Charity finds herself refereeing the bickering between the two acknowledge beauties, Regina and Mrs. Dabney, protecting her brother from Mrs. Dabney's amorous advances, bringing the shy Miss Paige out of her shell, dealing with domestic crises, planning outings and parties to keep her guests entertained, and wondering at the great change in Jeffrey Halston from the ardent young man she remembers from six years earlier.

Frankly, it all seems pretty dull, which may be an accurate reflection of day to day life in Regency times, but is not the stuff of which enthralling romance is made. There are two potentially sweet secondary romances going on, but because we see everything through Charity's eyes and since she is largely unaware of what is happening, even this doesn't add any spice to the story. And the "foreign intrigue" which ends the book adds little to the overall impact of what was a disappointing read.

Buck is a seasoned Regency author who has written a number of books that I have enjoyed. Indeed, her Mutual Consent is one of my keepers. But The Chester Charade didn't work for me. By the time it was finished, I knew everything I ever wanted to know about a Regency houseparty, but I didn't feel that I really knew the characters all that well, not even Charity. So I cannot recommend The Chester Charade, and indeed must conclude that it is not a particularly satisfying Regency romance.

--Jean Mason


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