Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Reluctant Widow


Heyer, Georgette. 1946. The Reluctant Widow.

The Reluctant Widow surprised me. Completely surprised me. You'd think by now that I'd be used to how good Georgette Heyer novels are. But no, I can be a bit dense sometimes. What threw me on this one, is that it added some mystery and suspense--and some gothic elements borrowed from classics as well--to the wit and romance I've come to expect. I am not a big mystery-suspense fan, but this one worked for me. Really really worked for me.

After her father committed suicide, Elinor Rochdale decides the best thing for her to do is to find herself a situation (employment) as a governness. She doesn't want to be a poor, helpless female relation to be traded around her few remaining relatives. Her mind is made up. Her bags are pack. She's ready to board the coach. Only problem is...she boards the wrong coach. Instead of arriving at Mrs. Macclesfield's estate to care for a six year old boy, she arrives at a strange estate owned by Lord Carlyon. He thinks she's there in reply to his advertisement. He is looking for a woman to marry his cousin Eustace Cheviot.

This mix up is not immediately evident to either party. And it makes for a rather comical dialogue. But once he realizes the mistake--he becomes convinced that this mistake was pure fate. His cousin, Eustace, they soon learn is on his death bed. A suitable woman must be found--so he claims--to marry him before he takes his last breath. And in Carlyon's (also "Ned") opinion, Miss Rochdale is quite the woman for the job. He does manipulate her in a way to say yes. To marry a complete stranger is an odd request. But his argument that he won't last through the night carries some weight. She won't be burdened by an actual husband. She'll be a widow soon enough. And there might just be enough money from her husband's estate to give her enough to live on--if she's economical--the rest of her life. It's a tempting offer. But one that she is almost always hesitant of.

But say yes she does. And soon Eustace is with us no more. His death--ruled accidental--came at his cousin's hand. Lord Carlyon has two brothers--John and Nicky. Nicky, quite in self defense, is responsible for Eustace's death. In the coming week--between his death and his funeral--it is revealed that Eustace had more than a few secrets he'd been keeping. The family soon suspects that he was involved in espionage. Mrs. Cheviot (Miss Rochdale, Elinor) has to live on her husband's estate--a place called Highnoons. There are a few servants remaining. And Carlyon is off to fetch Elinor's former governess, Miss Beccles (Becky). Nicky who took an instant liking to his new cousin wants to hang around the place as well with his dog, Bouncer, to protect them all.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Soon after Mrs. Cheviot moves in, she's greeted by a strange man--a man with a French accent--who appeared out of nowhere, with no introduction. He did not enter through the front door. No, she learns he entered through a secret passageway. And that scares her--as well it shoud. Telling Nicky of her unexpected visitor, he decides to leave Bouncer with her to protect her. (A job he is more than happy to take on.) And he soon comes (within a day) to the decision to remain there with her himself. He has a mind that the mystery man will be back to search the house. And he wants to be ready for him.

I'll stop there. Let me just say that I loved this one. Loved, loved, loved it. Loved all three of the brothers--Ned, John, Nicky. Loved Bouncer, the dog. Loved Becky, the former governess. Loved the main character Elinor. Loved the story.

Mystery. Suspense. Great wit. Great characters. Fast-paced. Everything to love, nothing to hate.

Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Miriam said...

"The Reluctant Widow" is one of my favorites of Heyer's. Quite interesting and well-written.
Miriam