|Harry Harmon is a government spy with many false identities. From day to day, he changes from Hal the beggar to old Major Harrison, all in service to the Crown.
His latest government assignment is sending him to a country house party to revel in debauchery while trying to recover a blackmailer’s letters, and listen for traitor’s conversations supporting the recently overthrown Bonaparte.
In The Scandalous Life of a True Lady, he hires Simone Ryland to help him while explaining very little of their mission. Simone is a young woman on her own with no options left. She was raised as a lady but her parents have died, leaving her to support herself and her younger brother. She has tried to work at various jobs, but has been driven out by several nasty, grabby “gentlemen.” When we meet Simone, she is starving, has no money to pay for her brother’s school tuition and only has one thing left to barter-her virginity. She visits Mrs. Burton’s bawdy house to trade her untouched body for a full belly.
Upon meeting Simone, Mrs. Burton immediately thinks of the unusual request her friend Harry has put in for a learned, beautiful companion for the house party and arranges for them to meet. Once Harry and Simone are introduced, he eventually explains that he needs her to pose as his mistress while helping him spy on the other party guests. Simone’s experience with languages is an asset that Harry can’t ignore. He also needs Simone to be truthful with him at all times, as Harry has a hidden talent - he is a human lie detector and can deceit literally leaves a bad taste in his mouth. Harry offers the money that Simone needs, and she accepts.
As the party begins, there are inane games for the mistresses to play, drinking, groping and very little in the way of intrigue. We meet many characters at the party, most of whom are charming and provide Simone with friends as well as rivals. Simone and Harry spend very little time together, so their relationship progresses slowly. As days pass, they become more involved with the twisting plot to do their duty, rather than focus on one another.
Harry is a well developed male lead; he is multilayered, funny, passionate and loyal. He has a conflicted self-image, having been born a bastard with a strange talent, however his every action is confident, smart and sure.
There are a few very strong secondary characters at the house party. Lord Chauncey’s drunken antics and subsequent turnaround had me laughing. Claire, a nasty courtesan trying to effectively play lady hostess is also a treat.
Unfortunately, Simone is overly sweet. She comes off as harmless, spineless and one-dimensional. Certainly not good enough for daring, honest Harry.
As for the love story: where is the passion? Simone and Harry might have been a good match if their relationship only had a little more depth. Their attraction simmers for the whole book, never bursting into flame. Promises without resolution are frustrating to the reader.
Also, there is an excess of house party characters. There were too many to keep track of. All said, I liked parts of The Scandalous Life of a True Lady, but I didn’t love it. Harry was the best part of the book and even he couldn’t save it from a sometimes confusing storyline, a harmless heroine and a bland love story.