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Annabella's Diamond
by Judith A. Lansdowne
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6228-1
**
Before I began this review, I did some research. I went to TRR's archives to refresh my memory about Judith Lansdowne's previous books. I knew that I and at least one of my colleagues had spoken very highly of her books and I wondered why Annabella's Diamond seemed out of character. The research helped. I realized that this book has one Lansdowne trait: a wildly improbable plot. Unfortunately, it lacks those traits that have previously led me to ignore plot problems: intriguing characters, sparkling dialogue, and lots of humor. This is not vintage Lansdowne.

Lady Annabella Faire is about to return to London for her second season and she is miserable. She was not a success; indeed, she acquired the nickname, the Hesitant Hedgehog from the tonnish wits who made fun of her shy and prickly ways. She expresses her dismay to her best friend and neighbor, Hillary Holland Hallsworth, the Duke of Derrinham. The duke is seven years her senior, but they have been close since childhood.

Annabella calls her friend "Diamond," for this is the way the admiring Ton refers to the Duke of Derrinham. He is a Corinthian to the core, as well as being handsome and rich. All the younger men follow Diamond's lead.

The duke had not been in society the previous season; he was mourning the death of his sister. He really had no intention of spending this season in London either. Spending time in the Derrinham London mansion disturbs him for some reason. But he determines that he can not let Bella suffer the misery of being unappreciated. So he arranges for his niece to visit London and, by showing Bella his attention at Almack's, immediately changes her fortunes. Now all the young bucks who follow his lead clamor to dance with the young woman who has caught Diamond's attention.

Of course, having brought Bella into fashion, Diamond begins to discover that he is not all that happy with the attention other men are paying to his little friend. So we have a classic story of two friends who discover that friendship is a fine basis for love.

Had Lansdowne concentrated on the romance, she might well have produced a delightful and even Heyer-esque comedy of manners. Instead, she introduces a convoluted and unlikely plot against the duke that has its roots in the murder of the duke's parents when he was only five years old. Bella, of course, gets involved in protecting her Diamond, and behaves more than once in a very foolish fashion, one of my personal pet peeves.

There were a few moments early in the book that were indeed vintage Lansdowne, times when I found myself laughing out loud. But such moments were all too few. A much darker tone overtook the book about midway through as the duke is forced to come to terms with horrible memories that he has understandably repressed. And frankly, Lansdowne's considerable talents do not lie in the area of dealing with the dark corners of the soul.

In short, I was disappointed in Annabella's Diamond. The cover blurb refers to "the joyous magic Ms. Lansdowne weaves." Usually this is the case, but Annabella's Diamond provided too little joy. I hope the magic returns with her next book.

--Jean Mason


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