Miss Lockhart's Letters
by Barbara Metzger
(Fawcett, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-449-00170-9
****
What if you thought you were dying? What would you do? Rosellen Lockhart chooses to write letters to the all too many people who have made her young life unhappy, leading to her sad end alone and dying of influenza at the girl's school where she serves as a miserably paid and miserably treated junior teacher.

While the plot device of letters from a dying person is not new, I have never seen it used in a Regency. And, of course, Metzger gives the tale a neat twist. Rosellen doesn't die and thus gets to see the impact of her letters. Indeed, those letters, written when she was nearly delirious, change her life.

The recipients of Rosellen's letters include: the nasty cousin who arranged for her to be socially ruined because she didn't want to share her season; the uncle who abandoned his sister when she married a poor cleric and sent his niece away without hearing her side of the story; the man who stole a kiss and her reputation; the twins who helped the nasty Clarice to pull off her scheme; the mean and dishonest owner of the girls' school where Rosellen has been teaching; the local landowner whose relations with the schoolmistress are closer than they should be; the school mistress' lecherous clerical brother. She informs all these assorted folks that she forgives them their mistreatment.

Rosellen also writes letters to two former students at the school, encouraging each to stand up for themselves. She has particularly fond memories of Susan Alton, who had proposed to save Rosellen from the horrors of Miss Merrihew's academy by employing her as a companion. But the one person whom Rosellen refuses to forgive is Susan's brother, Viscount Stanford, who had thoughtlessly destroyed Rosellen's hopes of a better life by telling his sister not to be foolish, she didn't need a companion. Rosellen's letter to Stanford chides him for his selfishness and his lack of empathy for others and blames him for her death.

Of course, the rub is that Rosellen doesn't die! Instead her letters set off a whole train of events. Mistress Merrihew, her brother and paramour realize how much Rosellen knows about their illegal and immoral behavior, and determine to rid themselves of her. They might well have succeeded were it not for the fact that Susan has shamed her brother into investigating dear Rosellen's fate, a feat made easier by his own guilt for his role in her calamities. And so, it's Viscount Stanford to the rescue, and suddenly, Rosellen finds herself dependent on her nemesis. And Stanford finds himself coming to admire the plucky, outspoken and determined Rosellen.

There is more excitement before the denouement. Stanford is unwilling to believe that Rosellen's life is in danger until it is almost too late. His obtuseness seems a bit overdone. And the final unmasking of the villain is perhaps a bit too pat. I do like brave heroines, but Rosellen's behavior approached foolishness.

But all in all, Miss Lockhart's Letters provided me with an enjoyable read. Metzger has a way of creating humorous secondary characters who enliven her story. I particularly enjoyed the twins who, threatened with haunting and feeling guilty about their part in Rosellen's disgrace, become her champions.

I didn't want to put Miss Lockhart's Letters down, so it clearly passed my most important test. Thus I can recommend it to Regency fans with a clear conscience. A fun book which displays Metzger's way with the lighthearted Regency. She is one of the authors who is endangered by Fawcett's decision to drop the Regency line. So don't forget to keep those cards and letters heading towards the publisher. Maybe we can change their minds.

--Jean Mason


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