A Bird in the Hand

Birds of a Feather

The Clandestine Courtship

Devall's Angel

Double Deceit

The Earl's Revenge

Lord Avery's Legacy

The Second Lady Emily

Too Many Matchmakers

The Unscrupulous Uncle

The Beleaguered Earl
by Allison Lane
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19972-3
One of the foremost requirements for a successful romance is that the reader must admire the hero. Oh, said hero can be dark and tormented. But he canít come across as weak and foolish as Iím afraid that Maxwell Longford, Earl of Merimont does in Allison Laneís new Regency romance. Beleaguered is not a quality I look for in my heroes, especially when most of the problems are the heroís own fault.

Consider poor Maxís situation. At thirty, he is living a fashionable life in London, not because he particularly wants to but because he canít get along with his irascible and controlling father. Granted the Marquess of Montcalm believes and enlarges every scrap of gossip about his son, but Max doesnít deal very well with the old man. When the marquess cuts off his allowance and announces that he will no longer be responsible for his sonís debts, Max is at his witsí end.

Then fortune seems to smile on him. Gambling with his last few shillings at Brookís, he has an amazing run of luck which culminates in winning an estate from Lord Ashburton. Since all Max wants out of life is to try out all the agricultural improvements he has been learning about, he plans to immediately set out for Redrock House in Devonshire to take possession. Before he knows how it happens, four of his friends, his current mistress and four other ladies of easy virtue have invited themselves along.

Arriving at the Redrock House, he discovers that the house is already inhabited by Lord Ashburtonís widowed sister-in-law and his niece, Hope. It turns out that they have an unbreakable lease on the house and grounds. Moreover, Mrs. Ashburton is terribly ill. So, what does our hero do? Does he behave with propriety and honor? Does he send messages to his improper houseparty that the party is off?

No, he doesnít. And why? Because telling his friends that ďMiss Ashburton had barred him from the house would make him a laughingstock.Ē Oh, please! To tell his supposed friends that the solicitor had not informed him that the house had tenants and that he could not in conscience ask a critically ill woman to up and move nor could he house a licentious party in the presence of a gently-bred lady would make him a laughingstock? I donít think so!

Instead of acting honorably, our hero decides to divide up the house. He and his friends will have one wing for the debaucheries while Miss Ashburton and her mother will hide in the other wing.

Now, donít get me wrong. Max has many good qualities Iím sure. Why heís loyal to his friends, like the very nasty Dornbras, refusing to hear anything bad about him until his ďfriendĒ accosts Hope. And even then, for fear of Dornbrasí revenge (some friend!), Max doesnít immediately order him out of the house, not even when he brutally beats his chere aimie.

Hope is mistrustful of men in general and Max in particular. Her father was a brute and her nasty uncle a cad. Her mistrust is somewhat mitigated when Max treats her with respect and shows an interest in improving the neglected estate. Still, itís hard to accept that she so swiftly changes her opinion of our beleaguered earl.

Max turns out to be a decent chap in the end, I suppose, but by the time the end comes, he has so many strikes against him that it didnít matter. No, Iím afraid I donít like my heroes ďbeleaguered,Ē especially when so many of Maxís problems seemed to stem from his own weakness and stubbornness. So Iím afraid I have to issue a caution about this book. Which is too bad, since I so often enjoy Allison Laneís novels.

--Jean Mason

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