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The Gold Coin by Andrea Kane
(Sonnet, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-01888-4
**
I knew I was in trouble when I found myself checking the number of pages in Andrea Kane’s new release and cringing. 455 pages of smallish print. However was I going to get through them! This was my first clue that all is not well with The Gold Coin.

My second clue came when I discovered that this is a story about identical twin cousins. Patty Duke notwithstanding, I have a lot of trouble with this concept, even though Kane went out of her way to make it seem possible: identical twin brothers who marry sisters. I found it hard to accept that two cousins could be so similar in appearance that even their parents couldn’t tell them apart.

The next clue that I was not going to be enthusiastic about The Golden Coin appeared when the author kept referring to Lady Anastasia and Lady Breanna. Perhaps I could have overlooked the fact that the granddaughters of an English viscount in 1803 would have been unlikely to have such contemporary names. More problematic was the fact that the granddaughters (or indeed, the daughters) of a viscount would not be “Lady Anything.”

My final misgiving arose when I got to know the characters. Perhaps my expectations are idiosyncratic, but when I read a Regency historical romance, I want the characters to bear some slight resemblance to the people of the era. I’m afraid that I did not find this to be the case.

The Colby family is not all sweetness and light, as we discover in the prologue. “Lord” George and “Lord” Henry may be identical twin brothers, but they emphatically don’t get along, much to the dismay of their father, Viscount Medford. The only thing they share is the business their father founded, Colby and Company. George is the main problem. He’s a nasty, grasping, totally unpleasant fellow. His five-year-old daughter Breanna is already afraid of him. His five-year-old niece Anastasia tries to protect her beloved cousin, by switching places with her so she won’t be punished.

Only the grandfather sees through the imposture. He takes the two little girls aside and gives them each a special coin -- gold for Anastasia, silver for Breanna. He tells them to guard the coins and never give them up, no matter who asks.

Fast forward fifteen years to 1818. Ten years earlier, on his father’s death, Henry had moved to Philadelphia to oversee the American branch of Colby and Company. Both he and his wife died and now Anastasia has come home to Medford Manor, to the cousin she loves and to the uncle she does not.

It becomes quite clear early on that George, now Viscount Medford, is engaged in some kind of nefarious doings and that he is in financial difficulties. He has great hopes that he can get his hands on Anastasia’s fortune, now that her father is dead. But Henry has thwarted him from the grave. While George is to be Anastasia’s guardian, her fortune is to be under the control of Damen Lockewood, the Marquess of Sheldrake. Moreover, it turns out that good old granddad had left a huge fortune to each of his granddaughters, to be given them if they follow his instructions and refuse to part with their coins. George is not a happy camper.

Anastasia is not your usual society miss. Having been raised in America and having been her father’s confidant, she has definite ideas about how she wants to invest her money and is not too pleased to be under the tutelage of Sheldrake, even for the short three months before she turns twenty-one. She wants to start a bank in Philadelphia to take advantage of the new country’s growing need for capital.

When Sheldrake rejects her idea, she proceeds to approach a number of rich men at her coming out ball, seeking a backer for her idea. Not surprisingly, she has no success. But Sheldrake, England’s foremost investment banker, has taken a closer look at the proposal and offers a partnership. He also takes a closer look at Anastasia, and really likes what he sees.

So does Anastasia, but there’s a fly in the ointment: George has decided that Sheldrake (and all his money) would make a perfect husband for Breanna. So Breanna and Anastasia change identities once again, so that the two lovers can court in peace.

But George has a desperate need for Anastasia’s fortune and is willing to take desperate steps to get his troublesome niece out of the picture.

As I said above, one of the problems I have with The Gold Coin is that the characters did not seem to me to be true to the era in which the story is set. Perhaps in the second half of the 19th century -- the setting of most of Kane’s previous books -- there could have been a viscount who is primarily a merchant or a marquess who is in fact a banker, but not in 1818.

Anastasia is an equally unlikely character, even given her “American” upbringing. Her unwillingness to wait a mere three months to embark upon her planned American bank bespeaks an impetuousness at odds with her supposedly astute business sense.

The best part of this book is, in fact, the romance. Anastasia and Damen are clearly a perfect couple. They like and admire each other, share a real meeting of the minds, and when they come together, the sparks really fly.

I found the plot about Uncle George’s evil doings improbably melodramatic, although it did add a little excitement to the story.

I have read and enjoyed a number of Andrea Kane’s earlier books, but when I find a book a chore to read, then I have no choice but to warn readers to think twice about embarking on the endeavor.

--Jean Mason


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