The Bare Truth
by Elizabeth Clarke
(Leisure, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-5672-0
**
Juliette Garrison is the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman who has been raised in squalor because her mother had the unfortunate luck to be a servant. Her father didn’t have the guts to fight his mother and now Juliette is a maid. It is 1898 and an American who owns a shipbuilding company seems to be pursuing her. This unlikely story, sadly, doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

The Bare Truth is that Juliette doesn’t like seeing herself as a below stairs person in a world where the rich are above stairs and the rest of the world isn’t. Juliette has been sacked from multiple jobs because she keeps forgetting this fact. She luckily runs across a young lady, Sarah Whitehall, who loves that Juliette is outspoken and her own age. (Actually, Sarah is only 19 while Juliette is 24). She is given the position of lady’s maid with the caveat that she also help in service since she doesn’t have much experience as a lady’s maid (read that – none). This made little sense and really just provided Juliette an opportunity to build relationships with the entire household, something that traditionally never happened, because even servants had their hierarchy. Juliette agrees to anything so she could earn enough to pay rent for her ailing mother who is dying of consumption and can no longer work. As we discover soon, though, Harriett is her adopted mother. Juliette’s real mother has died, leaving her with a diary detailing her romance with William Banford, son of Sir Roger Banford.

Juliette happens to meet Thomas Jameson, an American who has risen from a poor man to owning his own shipbuilding business. He is in England seeking investors and doesn’t care that Juliette is a maid. He seduces her with promises of a future, even though he has just discovered trouble in his own life that would prevent him from offering for her.

Meanwhile Juliette, with Sarah’s help, confronts Sir Roger, only to find that he is thrilled to “finally” discover her whereabouts. Roger always liked her mother and had wished his son to marry her. But his wife created havoc and broke up the romance. Then William died after marrying another and having a child. Sir Roger tells Juliette not to worry and then gets himself killed at the house party the Whitehall’s are giving. Juliette is one of the prime suspects and is only saved from prison when Thomas truthfully relates that Juliette was with him all night. This prompts the Whitehalls to fire her. Now she has to find other work, and vows to fight for her inheritance, something her rude, selfish stepsister, Brenna, and an equally distasteful cousin swear will not happen. The real murderer must be found and Thomas has to deal with his business woes too.

This tale was just too over the top. First, Juliette has airs that most people with any sense of preservation would not have gained. And if they did have them to this extent, I can’t see either the servants or the aristocracy embracing her as they did. The fact that she laments she will not end up like her mother and falls into bed with Thomas so easily is another incongruity that had me cringing. A good part of the last of the story is the seesaw between Juliette and Thomas – will he or won’t he offer for her and make an honest woman of her?

Clarke’s style of writing is good and there is a nice pace to the story. However, it reads like a fairytale and there are just too many coincidences and stereotypical moments that ruin the premise. For instance, the only people rude to Juliette after the murder accusation are the policemen and another seamstress who is jealous of her talent. Everyone else agrees she is innocent because she is just too nice to have done it. At a time in history where everyone was suspect, people still attended hangings of the poor and the rich ruled the society? Making Thomas an American is something that is in name only. He doesn’t act like an American nor are his circumstances believable.

Sadly, I have to warn you to steer clear of The Bare Truth if you are looking for a logical, engaging tale.

--Shirley Lyons


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