Kiss Me Goodnight

Midnight Bandit

Scarlet Lady

Never a Lady by Marlene Suson
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80567-7
The late nineteenth century invasion of Britain - by American heiresses and their social climbing mothers looking for a titled spouse - is an understandably popular topic for romance writers. Thus, Marlene Suson’s new novel has a certain familiar charm. Unfortunately, her heroine is just a bit too much of a good thing which detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

Maximilian, Lord Chartwell, is warned by his cousin’s agent that the Duke of Penrose is about to fall into the snare of a social-climbing American. Since he is charged with protecting his young relative, Max immediately rushes to the duke’s estate to protect him from this threat. As he enters the ducal grounds, he comes across a woman whose horse has clearly run away with her. Max rides to the rescue, only to be confronted by an angry female who aims a derringer at his family jewels. Thus he meets the woman who apparently has ensnared the duke in her schemes.

Virginia Blair doesn’t need rescuing from anything. She is quite capable of taking care of herself. She is also not guilty of aspiring to the duke’s hand. Rather, she is the unwitting tool of her nasty step-mother and the duke’s own grasping mother. Virginia herself has a low opinion of the British aristocracy and their drafty, uncomfortable castles. Then what is she doing in England, making the social rounds?

It turns out that Virginia’s millionaire father has an interesting child-rearing practice. He requires each of his children to spend six months performing some incredibly difficult task. Virgie’s challenge is to act like a lady for six months in the rarefied atmosphere of English society. In fact, Virgie has never been a lady and has no desire to be one.

Max is both taken with and taken aback by this pint-sized, red-haired dynamo. Fortunately, Suson does not overplay the “big misunderstanding.” Virgie soon disabuses Max of any idea that she wants to be a duchess. So, the two can settle down to getting to know each other and sparring their way to romance. And Virgie can demonstrate the superiority of American get-up-and-go to English restraint by proceeding to deal with all the problems she finds at Castle Penrose.

There is one difficulty. Max is about to propose to a proper English lady, one who has all the genteel characteristics that he thought he wanted in a wife. But Virgie soon shows him that spice is better than sweet. Moreover, his life would be awfully dull were Virgie not around to get him involved in all sorts of adventures, like sailing off in a runaway baloon.

Why was I less than enthralled with Never a Lady? I liked the hero quite a bit, clearly the primary requirement in enjoying a story. Unfortunately, except for Max, all the other characters seem to come right out of central casting. Virgie is a prototypical feisty heroine to the nth degree. Her stepmother is the standard social climbing egotist. The duke’s mother is the typical cold, selfish b**ch. The duke is a colorless - but nice - cardboard cutout. The aunt who also rides to rescue Esmond from the American danger is the usual old terror.

Still, the romance is pleasant enough and it is enjoyable to watch Max come to realize that intelligence and character are much to be preferred in a life mate to propriety and fashionableness. So, if you like “American heiresses in England” stories, you may well enjoy Never a Lady more than I did.

--Jean Mason

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