|Scandalous Lovers is based upon the real-life Men and Women’s Club that existed in London from 1885 to 1889. This club consisted of men and women who met to discuss social, moral, and philosophical issues concerning both sexes, along with various discussions with a sexual theme. Into one of their meetings at the British Museum wanders Frances Hart, a 49-year-old widow who has come to London to experience some of the social activities. Frances is looking for the ladies loo, but she stumbles on the meeting just as one of its members, James Whitcox, raises several questions about female sexuality. Frances, when asked for her opinion, replies honestly, and James is intrigued.
James is a renowned barrister who specializes in winning “unwinnable” criminal cases. He is presently defending a woman accused of murdering her husband, a subplot that will continue throughout the book. James was driven to join the Men and Womens club out of a sense of guilt. His wife died several years earlier, and he now realizes he knew very little about her. Their sexual life was perfunctory at best, and his affairs with various mistresses have been no more satisfying. What do women really want? he wonders. Can sex ever be more than just a physical act of duty?
Soon Frances and James are embarking on an affair. For Frances, who was married at fifteen and has grown children, even grandchildren, this is her first chance to experience raw passion. James struggles to shed his rigid outlook and simply immerse himself in sensation, not an easy task for a 47-year-old man who has spent his life following society’s strictures, saving what passion he possesses for his work. And when Frances’s son gets wind of his mother’s behavior, he decides she’s insane – a dangerous situation in Victorian times, where females were routinely committed to asylums.
The sex here is requisite Schone, that is to say, it’s explicit. Neither James nor Frances has experienced anything but the most perfunctory of sexual acts, and they could almost be considered near-virgins. It takes a while for them to unwind and get past the “heavy petting” stage, and some readers may not have much patience with the repetitiveness of their early sex scenes. James has supposedly never had much fun in bed, even with his mistresses, and Frances doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. They’ll find out together.
For all that the sex is hot, there isn’t a great deal of chemistry between these two characters. I was left with more questions than answers. If James’s wife hadn’t died, would he ever have wondered what she thought or felt? Would any woman who answered James’s questions honestly have piqued his curiosity? Was Frances just in the right place at the right time? These aren’t usually thoughts that pop into a reader’s head if the romance is riveting.
For all that, Scandalous Lovers is well-written and engaging. The Victorian setting is vivid, and the historical detail makes an interesting backdrop to the story. The secondary characters provide some needed depth. If you’re in the mood for a hot story, Schone can still deliver.