Pandora's Box

The Butler Did It

Kasey Michaels
2004, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
HQN, $6.50, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373770065
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

This book was featured in Pandora's Box for September 2004

Morgan Drummond, the Marquis of Westhaven returns to his London home after an absence of 5 years to discover his butler has been renting out his home for the Season. When Morgan tries to rid himself of his various tenants, he instead becomes drawn into their lives and finds himself falling in love.

The impoverished but genteel Emma Clifford has come to London with her family to find a husband. As Emma and Morgan strike sparks off each other, she finds something a great deal more then the expected distant marriage of the Ton, as she tumbles into love.

Linda:   This month was kind of fun for me. After reading a lot of mystery and romantic suspense it was fun to just pick up a good old fashioned Regency Romp. The Butler Did It reminded me of some of my favorite Chesney's and Metzger's. Lots of action, likable characters and great humor—truly my kind of book. But is it yours?

Blythe:   I had more of a mixed reaction but there were many things I liked about it. I liked that it was more or less set up like a play with "acts." That gave it an innovative feel. I also liked the hero and heroine, and found much of it funny. However, I thought that there was perhaps a little too much going on, especially at the end. The plot seems to get a little out of control, and the hero and heroine really took a back seat to all the events going on around them.

Linda:   Well, that is often quite typical of the Regency-romp-genre. I often think of them as French farces masquerading as Regencies. Think of one of the Molière plays and you will know what I mean. Lots of action, a lot of characters and laughs! I really liked the hero and heroine a lot and the plot reminded me of a favorite old movie, Come September; Rock Hudson and Gina Lollabrigida show up at his villa for a September tryst and find his butler rented it out to nuns!

Blythe:   I probably should also say that the whole plot in general requires some major suspension of disbelief. I had a hard time believing any butler would ever do that or that any Marquis would allow it. But obviously, you've got to set those thoughts aside to enjoy the book, and for the most part I did find it enjoyable, if a little manic. The plot is teeming with secondary characters. My favorite was probably Riley, the footman who was busy trying to corrupt Cliff (the heroine's brother). Granted, Cliff didn't need much of a push.

Linda:   LOL, Chesney wrote a whole series based on the staff renting out a House for the Season, I think six books. So, this is not necessarily new territory—but I found Michaels' version much to my liking.

You're certainly right, with this type of book one has to suspend one's disbelief and just go with the flow. I loved all of the characters, even Mrs. Norbert. I also liked the set up of the book in several acts with a denouement at the end telling what happened to them all. I loved Morgan and Emma, especially the fact that they didn't resist each other very hard. And I liked that Emma saw right through the villainous Rolin right away; it made her seem the intelligent young woman she was. I'm sick of plots where the hero tries to tell the heroine someone is rotten and she is either too stubborn or stupid to believe him.

Blythe:   Yes, I liked that too. She did go out with Rolin in the first place just to spite Morgan, but after one afternoon with him she could see that he was a real jerk. How refreshing. Morgan and Emma's relationship was fun, but again I just felt like I needed more of it. I liked how they interacted with each other, and they had some fun banter. But at the end they just don't seem to have much time together, and they almost seem to get lost in the shuffle and the busy plot. Fortunately, the plot is pretty fun, and there's certainly never a dull moment. The pace is pretty frenetic.

Linda:   I really loved the secondary romance with the butler, Thornley, and Emma's mother. It was just as sweet and funny as one could want in the second couple. I loved it when Daphne realized she enjoyed staring at Thornley's backside when he was pouring tea. She had so much tea, she was sloshing but still enjoying the view.

Blythe:   I think that really worked as a secondary romance too. They are both very proper and shocked at their feelings - but not too shocked to do something about them. I couldn't help liking Emma's grandma too. She's part of the older "tell it like it is" generation, and she doesn't pull any punches. She knows everything that is going on in the house, with Daphne and Thornley, and with Emma and Morgan. While I wasn't particularly wild about her participation in the gold scam, I really liked her perceptive wit.

Linda:   Like you I was a little shocked at her easy acceptance of conning her old beaus. She was definitely a little over the top, but also so quick-witted and loving to her granddaughter that I enjoyed her too. The storyline with Cliff and Riley and the game cocks was a little more edgy for me. The whole idea of fighting game cocks is repugnant to me, but it was authentic for the time. It also served the purpose of adding to the general melee at the ball. Cliff was just not very fleshed out, beyond being a young rake-wannabe. But, Riley was lots of fun—never missing an opportunity to make a pound. I loved it when he automatically held out his hand to Morgan and was met with a freezing stare.

We haven't really discussed Morgan and Emma's personalities and I think they were key to the book working on all of its levels. A likable hero and heroine are imperative for this type of book, you have to want to follow them through all of the various twists and turns of the plot. Morgan is a very admirable hero, not stuffy and with his own demons to deal with—a surprisingly deep character for this type of book. Emma was not just a sweet young miss, but an intelligent woman who knew she was beautiful but not awed by her own beauty or conceited in any way. I am not sure I remember a heroine who realized she was beautiful, but did not try to trade on it or be affected by it. Emma was also witty and gave as good as she got in her wonderful exchanges with Morgan. I loved the scene where they decided to see if their kiss was a one-time explosion or not.

Blythe:   I definitely wouldn't call myself a cock-fighting fan (would anyone?), but the plot didn't bother me here. That's probably because they talk about it, but you never see an actual fight. You hardly even hear about one. So the plot stays right where it should: at the comic relief level. We get to watch the hapless Cliff and Riley try to hide the presence of the roosters, only to have them emerge at exactly the wrong moment.

I have seen some other heroines who were pragmatic about their beauty, though I think it's a little more common to see heroines who don't think they are beautiful at all. I didn't feel like I really got to know Emma too much beyond the superficial (responsible daughter/granddaughter/sister, intelligent, etc). Morgan is a little more of a presence, probably because it's his house and the people in it really become his problems. I also thought his background gave him just the right touch of "woundedness." He did something incredibly stupid, but instead of moping about it he went to the country to cool his heels, regroup, and prioritize. His relationship with his friend, Perry, is also fun. Of course, Perry might as well be wearing a sign that says, "Look at me! I'm the hero of the next book! Can't you tell by my smug attitude toward love and matrimony?" But that's okay. I am probably interested enough to read his book, so it must have worked.

Linda:   Yes, Perry's story is due out in 2005. I hope that we will see some more of Morgan and Emma in his story, as I truly liked them and thought that their happily-ever-after was believable.

This has been my week for reading Kasey Michaels, I just finished the third book in the wonderful Maggie fantasy/mystery series. I enjoyed it a lot, although it wasn't as laugh out loud funny as the second book. But, as with grandma's entering a con here, Michaels has the hero make a moral choice that left me troubled after I finished the book. It will be interesting to see if others are bothered by main characters going over the line—even if for understandable reasons or not. Especially in books that are basically bright and funny.

Blythe:   Well, I often have a problem with characters who are thieves or con artists. If they are scamming someone, I have to be convinced that they are doing it to someone evil who really deserves it. If they are thieves, they have to be taking back something that belonged to someone else in the first place. I know not everyone feels that way. There are other vices that don't bother me as much as stealing. I can be convinced that someone has lied with good intentions, for example.

I haven't read any of the Maggie books, so I can't really comment on how it's handled there. I was a little uncomfortable with the scam in this book, but since it wasn't perpetrated by a major character it wasn't too troublesome.

Linda:   Well, I don't want to tell what the hero does (it would be a major spoiler) but it was completely done to protect those he loves. Nothing nefarious about it and yet it still troubled me. Especially as it came at the end of a story I had really enjoyed. Although it does help in Alex's evolving into a whole person (Remington Steele-style he appeared in the flesh when he was only a character in a book). But, I am often more squeamish then others and I would not hesitate to recommend the Maggie books to anyone who enjoys great banter and fun characters and a good mystery—they might even appeal to you. <g>

What are we reading next month?

Blythe:   Next month we are reading Connie Brockway's My Pleasure. It's kind of surprising that we've never done a Pandora on one of her books; she's a popular author who generally generates a lot of discussion.

Linda:   I am looking forward to that, I have really enjoyed several of Brockway's books and two, Bridal Favors and My Dearest Enemy, are on my keeper shelf.

Blythe:   I've enjoyed several of Brockway's books as well. I really liked All Through the Night and My Dearest Enemy. I also have many of her books TBR, including the very popular As You Desire (I guess I'm saving it for a rainy day).

Linda:   I haven't read that one, but I may try to get a copy and read it before the next Pandora. Like, I really need to add more books to my gigantic TBR pile.

See you next month.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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