An Acceptable Arrangement

The Christmas Gift

The Family Matchmaker

A Love For Lydia

The Perfect Husband

Taming Lord Renwick

The Widowed Miss Mordaunt

 
My Lady Housekeeper
by Jeanne Savery
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7652-5
**
Lady Sarah Staunton is horrified to find that the terms of her father’s will dictate she marries within a year or loses her income. Sarah will be reduced to living on her quarterly allowance, which is no more than pin money. Rather than wed a fortune hunter, Sarah orders her solicitor to find a way to break the terms of the will. Fifteen months later, Sarah is still unwed and has disappeared to her late father’s hunting box, where she is living quietly with a bare minimum of servants.

All is well until the foxhunting season starts. The Earl of Sherringham has leased the hunting box and will soon be arriving with several friends. Sarah decides to disguise herself with a gray wig and act the part of the housekeeper, “Mrs. Walker”. Unfortunately, Sherringham arrives a day early, with a doxy in tow. And Sarah is horrified to see it’s none other than Lawrence, the new Earl, a former soldier for whom she carried a torch years earlier. But Larry was fourth in line to the succession – how did he become the Earl so quickly?

Larry is just as suspicious of the three unlikely deaths that have made him a new peer. His cousin Roland, a young man who is next in line for the title, is arriving to join the party, so Larry has brought his trusted friend, Julie, along to try and discover if Roland is part of a plot to do away with Larry. When Larry breaks a leg in a riding accident that turns out to be no accident, the hunt is on for a murderer.

Meanwhile, Sarah finds she’s attracted to Larry, and Larry wonders what happened to Lady Sarah, a woman he’d admired from afar and now plans to seek out. If only she could be found…

A promising plot premise sinks under the weight of a forced conflict and a cast of fairly clueless characters. The smartest person of the lot is Julie, the ex-courtesan, and that doesn’t say much for the rest of the group. Julie sees through Sarah’s disguise right away, but Larry is oblivious. Roland, the cousin, is beyond stupid. His uncle has sold off his land and supposedly used the money to “improve the estate”, but Roland wonders why things aren’t any better than they’ve been for years. Plus, Uncle gave Roland a vial and instructed him to use it in Larry’s drink, and he’s making threats about Roland’s mother. Goodness, Roland thinks, is Uncle up to something? Could he be plotting?

Sarah is irritatingly obtuse. She refuses to marry, not ever, even when Larry comes to his senses and confesses his love. No, never, she Will Never Marry! (even though she loves Larry). And why? Because her father ordered her about and told her what to do, that’s why! And she’ll never be told what to do again! Not that she and Larry generate any heat whatsoever. Their romance is as interesting as watching paint dry. Many of their interactions consist of Larry asking Sarah a pointed question and Sara marching out of the room in a huff.

Julie, however, has smarts and sensibility, and earns this unfortunate book its two-heart rating. When Julie meets the local magistrate, a reclusive nobleman, romance is in the air, and it’s a good deal more interesting than that of Larry and Sarah. She would have made a fine heroine in her own right.

Jeanne Savery is one of Zebra’s most prolific authors, with a new release every three months, and her last few have been unmemorable. A stubborn heroine does not make an adequate plot conflict. My Lady Housekeeper feels like quantity overtook quality. Let’s hope in the rush to publish, authors don’t drive the Regency subgenre right out of business.

--Cathy Sova


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