Rules of Engagement

 
Love Is in the Heir
by Kathryn Caskie
(Warner Forever, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61610-9
***
It's been a while since I've read a comedy of errors featuring identical twins, but ,b>Love Is in the Heir didn't exactly renew my faith in the age-old device. Ironically, some of the best parts have nothing to do with the central premise.

The hypochondriac Earl of Devonsfield must designate a new heir. His closest living relatives are twins whose order of birth was never recorded. Desperate to dispense with the long formalities necessary to determine the first born and hence the heir, he proposes that the one who marries first inherits the title. Griffin and Garnet St Alban agree to the terms.

Griffin isn't really interested in being named the heir, but he has fallen in love with Miss Hannah Chilton and is determined to ask for her hand, inheritance or not. He doesn't reckon on Garnet's help. The skirt-chasing twin pretends to be his shy, comet-gazing brother in the hopes that his charm will win over the young woman. But the deception only results in drawing a wedge between the couple. Because who would have guessed? The woman actually prefers the shy astrologer to the ladies man. That is, until she catches "him" pursuing another woman. It takes some time before the misunderstanding is sorted out.

In the meantime, Hannah amuses herself by trying to outdo her chaperones in matchmaking. The elderly Featherton sisters feature in other Caskie novels, but the tables are turned on them here when they become the focus of Hannah's new venture. And while the young woman is busy managing them, they do what they do best: matchmake. All this meddlesome if well-intentioned activity results in comic mayhem and at least four new couples. There may be even more, but with so much going on, I lost track.

Herein lies my main criticism: the novel's many plots, counterplots and subplots are not only overwhelming, they are also confusing. In addition to the twin story and the matchmaking stories, there's Griffin's interest in comets as well as a continuous flow of characters ready to infuse more turmoil. The former offers an intriguing departure from most Regency-era settings: Caskie's fictional rendition of Caroline Herschel, England's pioneer woman astronomer, is inventive and engaging. My enthusiasm is more tempered, however, where the other secondary characters are concerned. Most of them appeared in earlier novels of the series. Not having read any, I can only suspect there were several in-jokes I missed entirely. On the other hand, fans and devotees may be delighted to see old friends.

My other criticism has to do with Garnet's motivation: I don't understand why he is so eager to help his brother win his bride. After all, he's much more interested in the title. So why doesn't he use his charm to trap a woman for himself? (That he eventually does is beside the point.)

All in all, Love Is in the Heir tries hard to draw new laughs from a well-worn situation. Unfortunately, too much bewilderment is mixed in with the occasional chuckle. I'm not convinced the pay off is worth it.

--Mary Benn


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