|The Rogue Report is a broadsheet delivered once a fortnight to the unmarried ladies of the ton that exposes the “gentleman” of their acquaintance as the scoundrels they are, causing more than one of these naïve ladies to revise their opinions and, in at least one case, their marriage plans.
Jack William Mansfield, the Earl of Rutledge, desperately needed the funds his heiress fiancée would have brought to their marriage. Unfortunately, a tidbit in the Report about his risqué parties and profligate gaming habits has caused a scandal that she can’t countenance. The earl is determined to unmask the author of the Report and make her pay (somehow). Using a process of elimination, he has determined that Lady Julia Corwyn is the only disgraced former lady still in London, and he launches a scheme to exact his revenge.
Lady Julia has been out of society since her disgrace eight years previously, although the particular cause of that disgrace is unclear. All that is certain is that her parents disowned her, she left town, and gave birth a few months later to a son whose father she refused to name. She is now the owner of an interesting school in London; the Corwyn Academy educates the illegitimate offspring of servants, and her son Theo is educated there as well. The Academy is in need of a mathematics teacher and, conveniently, “William Jackman,” known as Jack, has presented himself for employment; it turns out that the Earl of Rutledge has a bit of a mathematics hobby and is willing to go undercover at the Academy to get the proof he needs to unmask Julia.
Jack moves into the carriage house, bribes Theo to wake him up every morning so he isn’t late for work, charms the other disapproving lady teachers, and begins to use some innovative and effective teaching methods on the kids. He and Lady Julia spend a stormy night with a game of vingt-et-un with truth-or-dare stakes that allows Jack to see Julia as something other than the broadsheet author who has ruined his life. It is clear that there is more to the mystery about Julia’s history than there appears, and that some of this mystery might be the cause of her current troubles. Although Jack has taken up residence in his quest for revenge, Lady Julia is also being troubled by an employee’s family and a mysterious stranger who is nosing around the school at night looking for who knows what.
This story started out strongly. Julia and Jack are interesting characters, him even more than her. How cute, a mathematics geek! He is driven to marry money not for his own comfort, but to provide some ease for his grandfather, a drunken duke who is Jack’s only living relative. He seems to have a bit of a gambling addiction, but who doesn’t? Julia is smart, upstanding but not prudish, a quite creative in not just her authorship of the Report, but in her method of gathering information for it. The truth of her past is nicely revealed, bit by bit, neither drawn out to long nor dumped in your lap in one fell swoop. And little Theo is your basic sweet, fatherless child longing for male companionship and direction.
This strong start didn’t really fade; it actually came to an abrupt end more than three-quarters of the way through. Of course I can’t really say why, as that would be huge spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that this was one of those “huh?” dénouements. In the end, with the resolution of the secondary mystery, it just became silly. And, frankly, a bit pedantic as everyone gave their set speeches that were supposed to explain the inexplicable.
Additionally, there were some major plot points that didn’t make too much sense. Primary among these was why Lady Julia was allowed to keep control of the apparently vast inheritance that made her school possible. Did women, particularly youngish women, particularly youngish disgraced daughters of the nobility, have that kind of discretionary power? And about her school – would a school, even one for the bastard children of the servant class, educate boys and girls side by side? Particularly a residential school?
All told, reading this book is probably like reading the Rogue Report – entertaining in the main, implausible in some crucial details, and filled with people whose stories are not likely to stick with you after you put it aside.