Lady Diana's Daring Deed

Lady Hilaryís Halloween

The Affair at Greengage Manor
by Mona Gedney
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7622-3
The Affair at Greengage Manor features two lead characters who wonít convince anyone they care for each other, their sudden declarations of love at the end of the story notwithstanding. This romance is a complete snooze, and some lively secondary characters arenít enough to redeem it.

Miss Alexandra Lytton, governess, shares a dance with a handsome stranger in the prologue. Duty calls Alexandra away before they can introduce themselves. Several years later, Richard Browning is settling into a life of bucolic bliss at Greengage Manor, so named for its plum orchards. The manor is his at last, and he is engaged to a vision of perfection named Pamela, who will make him a proper wife. Pamela and her mother are in residence at Greengage Manor, where they are planning a ball. And if Pamela bosses the servants, ridicules Richardís friends, and carps about being stuck in the country, well, Richard is prepared to be indulgent because sheís so lovely, she pouts so prettily, she apologizes so sweetly, etc.

Meanwhile, five ragged, orphaned children are making their way to Greengage Manor, where Richard, their unsuspecting uncle, is about to become their guardian. The children run into trouble and are rescued by Alexandra, who is enroute to her next position. Alexandra takes the five under her wing and escorts them to Greengage Manor, where they arrive at dinnertime and face an uncomfortable reception. Richard is nonplussed and barely civil; Pamela is shrewish. Alexandra stands up for the children, and Richard admits she has a point. But what is he to do with them? And what is he to do about Miss Lytton, with whom he shared a memorable dance long ago?

What might have been the setup for an enjoyable romance falls flat at this point. Pamela insists the children be sent away, into service if necessary. Her shrewishness becomes a caricature, as every move she makes is greedy and self-serving. Youíd think at this point Richard would start gaining some insight into her true character, but he makes excuses for her behavior with every flutter of her eyelashes, which makes him a weak fellow, indeed. Alexandra agrees to stay long enough to help the children get settled into their new life, and with such an obvious example of decency and spirit in front of his eyes, Richardís continual infatuation with Pamela becomes more and more ridiculous. And irritating.

The conflict centers around the children and Richardís refusal to become emotionally involved with them because heís angry at his late sister, the childrenís mother, for eloping at the age of sixteen and leaving him alone on Barbados with their parents. After the parentsí death, Richard ended up the heir to Greengage Manor, where his mother had spent her childhood. At last he has it all, and now this has to happen. Richard sees his carefully ordered life unraveling, and he doesnít like it one bit. This focus on himself, rather than on his five defenseless nieces and nephews, reduced him to the level of a sulking child, not a man willing to step up and shoulder his responsibilities.

Richard gradually begins to come around. It takes him nearly the entire book, and this is just not hero material. Alexandra hangs in, mostly for the sake of the children. Weíre told he comes to admire her, then maybe love her, and she feels the same. But why on earth would she be attracted to a man who treats his own relations shabbily and fawns over a conniving witch? As a romance, itís not only unconvincing, itís virtually nonexistent.

The children are wonderful, which is about the only thing this story has going for it. But they canít carry the entire book. In the end, The Affair at Greengage Manor is a disappointing Regency better left on the shelf.

--Cathy Sova

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