Just Before Midnight

The Rescue

The Treasure

 
Never Trust A Lady
by Suzanne Robinson
(Bantam, $6.50, G) ISBN 0-553-58423-5
***
Lady Eva Sparrow is a young widow and squeezing all the fun out of life that she can. After an unhappy childhood, and dreadful marriage, Eva has spent the last few years traveling aboard and having various adventures. However, it is while visiting friends in Mississippi, at the dawn of the Civil War, that Eva finds herself called to action. Horrified by slavery, she is determined to help any way she can – and she gets her wish when she learns that her British political connections could aid the Union cause.

Ryder Drake owns a ranch in Texas, but the threat of war has led him to set up a Union spy network to keep tabs on the Confederates. He also wants to make sure that the South fails in rallying support from the British – and to do that he needs an insider who can introduce him to British political figures. He really doesn’t want to enable the help of Lady Eva Sparrow, thinking she’s just another bubble-headed female.

However Ryder soon learns of an assassination attempt that would surely mean Britain declaring war on the Union. He has exhausted all other possibilities and must try to gain favor with Lady Eva – a task that finds him in a perilous situation since he has grossly underestimated her intelligence.

I feel fairly confident in saying that Never Trust A Lady is not a romance. Oh sure, there’s a romance – but it is most definitely a subplot and not wholly satisfying. Lady Eva is normally the sort of heroine I like. She was dissatisfied playing the beautiful, empty-headed hostess to her much older husband and has spent her widowhood traveling, learning and basically having her own opinions. For the bulk of the story I found her rather refreshing – although there are a couple of instances where she comes off like a petulant child because the boys won’t listen to her.

Ryder has mommy issues. Like many romance heroes before him, his mother was a society shrew who only cared for baubles and parties, therefore neglecting her marriage and only son. Sigh. So naturally because Eva is a British Lady and moves in certain desirable circles, she must be a ninny. He eventually realizes that he’s the moron, but this same old song and dance routine was more than a little disappointing.

What does work much better than the romance is Robinson’s skill when it comes to writing history. While the author focuses a little too much on slavery as the only cause for the war (it wasn’t), her inclusion of real historical figures was an added bonus. Notable secondary characters include Alan Pinkerton, Abraham Lincoln, and Queen Victoria herself. The Victorian London setting is also well done – right down to gaslights, seedy slums, and descriptions of the sewer system.

The mystery of the assassination attempt is middle of the road. The author does toss in an acceptable red herring – but sad to say that I pretty much knew where it was going before I had actually concluded the journey. Readers who pick up mystery novels with any sort of frequency may find themselves in the same boat. That said, I never got bored with the main focus of the story, and easily kept turning the pages.

Enjoyment of Never Trust A Lady hinges on what the reader is looking for. Those wanting a romance will probably find themselves frustrated, while those looking for a historical novel should be more satisfied. The ending also leaves this reviewer pondering if this is the potential birth of a new series – as while there is a happily ever after, it’s not exactly signed, sealed and delivered. It certainly wouldn’t be out of the question – which could make Never Trust A Lady of particular interest to fans of historical mystery series.

Wendy Crutcher

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