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A Season of Virtues
by Judith A. Lansdowne
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6103-X
**
When discussing a book, a frequent question is: "What's it about?" Gone with the Wind is about a spoiled Southern belle and the men she loves around the time of the American Civil War. Crime and Punishment is about a Russian student who murders a woman and then suffers from guilt. Moby Dick is about the captain of a whaling ship and the white whale he's determined to find. (All gross oversimplications, of course.)

What's A Season of Virtues about? Good question. The problem is there's no single main plot in this book. There are a bunch of interconnected subplots that wind their way to a conclusion that ties up most of the threads, but none stands out from the rest as the central unifying plot. As I read the book, I kept waiting for a central plot to emerge and felt the lack when none ever did.

In addition, there are seven major characters and several minor characters so character development is limited. Even the two more important characters who could probably be termed the designated hero and heroine are scarcely more developed than any of the others.

Garrett Forester, Earl of Whitshire, (who dresses in an unfashionable manner) at the request of his mother has been hosting the youthful Mr. Justice Virtue. While Justice is at Astley's Amphitheater, an equestrienne performer, Miss Julia Patterson, literally falls at his feet. She tells Justice that she fears she is being followed so he takes her back to Whit's house. She claims that her uncle has wagered her in a card game and she's in hiding.

Meanwhile, Whit's mother has arrived unannounced with Justice's sisters, Honor and Prudence. (Their father's named what else? Loyal Virtue.) Lady Whitshire is "The Incomparable Melinda" and is still sought after by many men of rank.

Whit has a "hobby horse" studying murderers. (His mother is afraid that this will prevent him from ever marrying.) Along with his friend Andrew Millard, he is presently investigating the murder of Sir Nathan Longbourne. He recognizes Julia's horse as having recently belonged to Sir Nathan. Whit finds a hairbrush with Julia's initials and hairs of her color in the home of the murder victim. (He also rescues a young boy who is being threatened by Sir Nathan's butler at the same time and who joins Whit's household.) Justice, who is falling in love with Julia, cannot believe that she could be involved in any way in the murder.

Lady Whitshire undertakes introducing the three young beauties to society. They are an immediate success.

There's more criminal activity afoot. It seems that objects are mysteriously appearing in the Whitshire house a burglary in reverse. A mysterious stranger is observed keeping watch on the house. There are noises in the attic.

Whit and Honor find themselves alone late at night on several occasions. Honor, however, does not consider herself compromised and refuses his proposal. They laugh a lot.

Andrew quickly develops fond feelings for Prudence, but she is attracted to a handsome army officer. She believes that a bishop's son (which Andrew is) is bound to be a dull fellow.

Whit's valet is afraid that all this investigation into crimes will focus Bow Street's attention on him because he has a criminal past and is a wanted man.

This type of book can be described as a "Regency romp." All these themes continue while the characters carry on social engagements, generally have a good time, and laugh a lot. Boy, do they laugh! They laugh; they giggle; they guffaw. I'll agree there are a few amusing remarks or incidents, but not to that extent. Whatever happened to the British stiff upper lip or genteel restraint?

Some of the dialogue is clever. One annoying aspect of the writing, however, is the author's overuse of verbs as dialogue tags, i. e:

"Of course not," grinned Honor.
"It is his passion," nodded the dowager Lady Whitshire.
"I am not," smiled Honor.
"Do about what?" frowned Justice.
"I do hope so," giggled Prudence.

Such usage appears over and over again on page after page until it becomes really grating.

I don't doubt that there are some Regency readers who will enjoy this book for the humorous scenes and will be willing to overlook the flaws. I suspect, however, that most readers would prefer a strong story line and well developed characters.

--Lesley Dunlap


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