Evelyn Marie Ruddickís brother Victor has political ambitions, and regardless of her inclinations, Evelyn is a tool to help accomplish them. It is when she is directed to solicit Lady Gladstoneís company (her elderly husband can deliver some votes) that she meets the Marquis of St. Aubyn, called ĎSaintí but who in reality has a universally terrible reputation. Lady Gladstone has been Saintís mistress, but heís ready to break it off.
Evelyn has decided to involve herself in Good Works. She chooses the Heart of Hope Orphanage, housed in a former military barracks, as the object of her charity. Her initial approach is rebuffed - she must meet with the trustees if she wishes to volunteer. The head of the trustees she discovers to her surprise is the Marquis of St. Aubyn. (He had been left the responsibility of the orphanage in his motherís will, and in private he is seeking the assistance of the Prince Regent in his campaign to close the orphanage and divest himself of the responsibility.) Evelyn, proper and virginal, is hardly the type of female to interest Saint, but he makes a crude pass at her nonetheless presumably because thatís what lowlife males of his ilk do.
In hopes of discouraging her, the trustees require Evelyn to come up with a plan to improve the orphansí conditions. As she sets about doing this, she is constantly running into Saint who has not moderated his improper behavior towards her. As a condition for allowing her to proceed with her plans, she is forced into his company in social situations also, a predicament that incurs her brotherís anger. He wants her to encourage Clarence Alvington, whose fatherís influence can ensure his election to Parliament, but whom Evelyn finds decidedly uninteresting. Even though she considers Saintís behavior and comments despicable, she finds him quite the opposite.
Evelyn is caught on a treadmill keeping Saint in line, keeping her brother satisfied, and helping the orphans. When she learns of Saintís duplicity - heíd permitted her to lend assistance to the orphanage knowing all the time that he was intending to shut it down - she arranges with the collaboration of the orphans to chain him in the brig with the goal of revising his thinking.
When I first began Londonís Perfect Scoundrel, I had the sinking feeling that this was going to be an ordeal to finish. To my relief and delight, right about the time Evelyn and the orphans throw Saint in the brig, things pick up. Evie and Saint, who up until that point had often been wooden and stereotypical, turn into real characters responding in believable ways. By the end, I was rooting for both of them.
What makes Saint different from many fictional rakes is that this guy really is bad to the bone at the start of the story. Heís thoughtless, selfish, and vulgar - even his former male friends have begun to distance themselves from him. He doesnít become involved with Evelyn over the orphanage because he really has a heart of gold but because he thinks it might get him under her skirts. His reformation happens in credible small steps over the course of the story - by the end, heís changed because heís undergone a self-realization.
Similarly, Evelynís character assumes depth as the story progresses. In the beginning, she comes across as rather stiff and artificial. Saintís comments to her, however, would offend most women. Even after she gains some depth and animation, she remains somewhat contradictory. The woman who goes head to head with Saint and eventually wins his respect is unconvincingly acquiescent in her relations with her mother and brother. The prospect of a lifetime with the unappealing Alvington should have had her exhibiting the same determination.
Thereís a question of why Evelyn seems to have done nothing for the five years her brother was out of the country (before the story starts). It isnít until she is subject to more stringent control that she decides to look around for some deserving charity to volunteer. This heightens the drama as she tries to keep her charity interests and her involvement with Saint secret from her family, but after a lifetime of inaction, a sudden interest in philanthropy doesnít ring true.
Londonís Perfect Scoundrel isnít perfect, but itís a light, entertaining read - ideal for wiling away the hours of a rainy weekend. The sequel to The Rake with cameo appearance by characters from that book as well as from A Matter of Scandal, it stands well alone on its own. The final scene gives notice that a third book is on the way.