The Cat's Bracelet by Jessie Watson
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-821-75913-2
***
The Cat's Bracelet is the second novel from new Regency author Jessie Watson. I thoroughly enjoyed her first book, The Changeable Rose, so it was a bit of a disappointment that this book, while certainly a very acceptable work, fell a bit flat. Nevertheless, this is a Regency author with a bright future and one to keep an eye on.

Annabelle Makepeace, a genteel widow, is travelling to her new position as ladies companion for an elderly woman when she finds herself stranded at an inn during a fierce storm. All the rooms are filled. Belle is surprised and a little wary when an obviously well-to-do lady offers her space in her own room. The woman introduces herself as Lillie Broadhurst, and their chance meeting will alter Belle's life.

Lillie and Belle are very similar in looks; similar enough that Lillie, herself a widow, devises a fantastic plan to free her from the tedium of the London social season. Lillie longs to travel to Italy. Belle is dreading the thought of a life as a paid companion. What if they switched identities? Belle will go to London and be Lillie, not too much of a stretch since Lillie hasn't been to London in quite a while. Lillie will travel to Italy and return after the Season.

To top it off, Lillie's London house holds a mystery The Cat's Bracelet. Years ago, a valuable diamond bracelet disappeared and everyone blamed the cat. It has never been found. Belle is excited at the thought of a treasure hunt, and the current cat, Filbert, is a direct descendant of that first cat.

All goes smoothly at first. Annabelle makes friends with the neighbors, who readily accept her. She looks forward to attending a few social events. Then Gore Lindley, a childhood friend of Lillie's, arrives in town. He sees through the sham at once but decides to keep quiet and try to find out who this imposter is. In the meantime, he's attracted to Belle/Lillie.

It took a while for this book to get moving. Belle moves to London meets a few folks and Gore, goes to a few parties, shops for dresses, but the story just didn't seem to be going anywhere. Until a jealous debutante with an eye for Gore gets involved, there didn't seem to be much of a conflict at all. The debutante's efforts to shred Belle's reputation and Gore's subsequent championship make for a more interesting story.

Gore and Belle never came alive for me. Belle is, well, so darn nice all the time that she came across as quite bland. Gore doesn't make a strong impression, either. I think if I'd known more about the backgrounds of these two and seen them interact more, I'd have had a better picture of just who they were. As it is, they meet at parties and such but the spark between them felt missing to me.

The quality of the writing is not to blame, though. This is a technically well-written book; the dialogue felt realistic and the descriptions were clear. The author has obviously polished her craft. In that sense, it was a pleasure to read.

The Cat's Bracelet may prove to be just the Regency read you're looking for. See for yourself.

--Cathy Sova


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