|For those of you who love to hate your heroines, Suzanne Enoch's Diane Benchley, Lady Cameron, is your girl. What she is not, however, is a beginner, which made me wonder all the way through A Beginner's Guide to Rakes why that was the title chosen. Regardless of its lousy title, A Beginner's Guide to Rakes, though a little vague as far as the societal and historical accuracies are concerned, is a very fun, fast-paced, and intriguing romance.
After a blessedly young widowhood, our Lady Cameron took a few slightly immoral steps and put herself in a better financial situation, the earl having been a failure as a professional gambler. Now, in a bit of revenge against his memory, his family, and the institution of gaming, Diane has decided to open her own gaming house--within a home that had belonged to the Benchley family.
Unfortunately, as Diane was making her way back to London, her chosen sponsor died, leaving her with no one to turn to for loans or insight. No one, that is, except Oliver, the Marquis of Haybury, a noted gambler himself, though one with better luck or skill than the late, unlamented Earl of Cameron.
Shortly after said earl's passing, the Marquis and Diane had a torrid two-week affair that left the both of them bewildered. Now, though Diane doesn't trust Oliver the slightest on a personal level, she knows he's her go-to man as far as money and gambling are concerned; this is especially true since she has evidence of something from his past with which she's blackmailing him.
So, both armed with knowledge of the other and a sharp pair of wits between them, Oliver and Diane embark on this scandalous business venture and naturally tumble back into a just-as-scandalous sexual one, though neither is looking for romance.
Lady Cameron's former brother-in-law, however, is not willing to sit back and let a woman he's never liked rake in money at an estate that should have been his. And though Oliver may be Diane's best chance to keep the business that has become the center of her life, he'll have to prove his trustworthiness first.
A Beginner's Guide to RakesM (yes, horrible title, almost kept me from picking up the book) didn't get terribly good reviews, but I'm happy to give it and Suzanne Enoch their due and the four-heart rating. It's well-written, the dialogue is snappy, and the characters all but jump off the pages. The whole thing does not revolve around sex, and there’s a nice bit of intrigue. If it's completely unfathomable, so be it: we're reading about going from scullery maid to duchess in a fortnight, about hardened military men who fall for the first little wimp they find in a village; can we expect a lot of realism?