Carla Kelly's One Good Turn features Benedict Nesbitt, Duke of Knaresborough (Nez), who first appeared in Libby's London Merchant There are also small guest appearances by Jane and Scipio Butterworth from Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind.
Nez stops his coach one rainy day to pick up a woman and a young boy. Nez assumes that she was a camp follower during the war, but as she helps him with a sick butler and niece, and eventually becomes his housekeeper, he learns that there is more to her than meets the eye.
Blythe: I've recently read a string of duds, so I was really looking forward to reading One Good Turn. I wasn't disappointed. One Good Turn is the sequel to Libby's London Merchant, and it's a book long awaited by Carla Kelly fans - who haven't had a "fix" since 1998. I think it's a book worth waiting for. Kelly is in fine form here, with solid writing and solid plotting. I haven't read Libby, but that didn't seem to matter. I loved the story and I cared deeply about both characters.
Linda: I haven't read Libby either, but there was enough information that I felt up to speed right away. Reading this book, though, makes he want to read Libby, which has just been reissued in a two-in-one with Kelly's Miss Chartley's Guided Tour...my TBR pile continues to grow. <g>
Nez, is an absolutely wonderful hero and Liria was just incredible, too; a pair of strong characters in a largely character-driven story.
Blythe: I'm going to pick up that reprint too, next time I hit the bookstore. I've been glomming Kelly for years, but her books are so hard to find, I don't have anything close to a complete collection. This one made me want to dig her other books out of my TBR pile as well.
One Good Turn has some dark themes. The original "good turn" is when Nez picks Liria and her young son up in his coach (the one she was taking had broken down). He does it because his butler insists, and he makes some assumptions about Liria's character based on her appearance. Liria has had a difficult past, and Kelly doesn't gloss over that. But even though horrible things have happened to her, I never felt that the story was depressing.
Linda: No, I didn't think it was depressing either, even though it was obvious from the beginning what was in her past. I cried when the full story of what she went through was revealed. It was especially poignant knowing that historically her experience was accurate for the poor women of Spain - who were attacked by both sides. Somehow this seemed very relevant with what is going on in the Balkans and Afghanistan today - what happens to women in a war fought by men is unfortunately as true now as it was then. Liria's character is revealed through her actions and the love she had for her child; Kelly ventures where few romance authors have gone in her depictions of the aftermath of war.
Blythe: I thought so too. I think this is a side of war that we rarely see in Regency Romances. A lot of authors have covered the violence, and the heroes that feel scarred by the horrors of war. But this was a good reminder that not all horrors take place on the battlefield, and not all of them can be avenged. The image that keeps sticking in my mind is that of the women of Badajoz, identifiable to others because so many had scars on their ears from their earrings being ripped off. There is also a passing remark about the many "January babies" that resulted from the sacking; obviously it was a nightmare that impacted more than one generation.
Yet Liria survives these horrors and goes on to meet Nez, a wonderful hero. Nez was apparently something of a "bad guy" in Libby, in love with the heroine in that book and offering her an indecent proposal. In One Good Turn he has given up drinking and is trying to be a better person. My favorite thing about him was that he was so self-depreciating. It had to be pointed out to him - repeatedly - that he really was a good person. And Kelly doesn't just tell you that he is; his actions speak for themselves, subtly. I loved his relationship with his servants.
Linda: Yes, his relationship with his butler was wonderful. It was especially poignant in the scene when Nez puts the pieces together and realizes what happened to Liria. Nez's reaction was so realistic too. He had his own guilt about Badajoz, which had driven him to the bottle and his giving up drinking in what was a hard-drinking society was remarkable. I loved the scene where he just stared at the empty shelves of his wine cellars, picturing what he would have drunk to escape in the past. This is a wonderfully realistic and very evocative scene that really showed that this was an on-going battle.
Though I've read some of Kelly's anthology pieces, this is my first of her full-length books. I've stayed away from her as people always called the books "dark." But, if the others are "dark" as this is dark, I think a better description would be "deep." Kelly manages to do so much with these two wounded people within the format of a traditional Regency! Had this been a single title historical romance instead, I'd have been able to enjoy even more of these characters and would have enjoyed that too. Also, one of the best characters, Sgt. Carr, only appears thru his ledger and memories from Juan and Liria, I just loved him and the "relationship" Nez has with him.
Blythe: I really liked Sgt. Carr also, and I liked the way we got to know him. Liria's son Juan is also quite well portrayed, and I loved Sophie, AKA "the Empress," Nez's niece. I've never really thought of Kelly's books as dark, even though they often deal with serious themes. I guess I find them more inspiring, because the characters always manage to go on with their lives. Liria manages pretty well before she meets Nez. Of course, her life takes a decided turn for the better, but it's not like she was just sitting around feeling sorry for herself before. I have little tolerance for that, or for characters that use their difficult pasts as an excuse to treat everyone around them like dirt.
Although I've read several of Kelly's Regencies, I'm also a huge fan of her short stories. I've loved nearly every one of them. My only complaint is that I always want to hear even more about the characters.
Linda: That's how I felt about this book - I would have liked to see more of Nez's brother-in-law for instance. One thing that was poignant was Nez and Sophie's reactions to being touched - their experience was so completely British with the detached parents and being raised by nannies. Liria being Spanish was so different, freely giving loving touches without even realizing what they meant to Nez and Sophie. Juan is a wonderful little boy, although perhaps a little too well behaved - maybe from the necessities of his life. In a longer book we could perhaps see his metamorphosis into a normal little boy with perhaps, some misbehavior when he feels safe. His response to new shoes that fit was very poignant.
If I were to give this book a grade, it would be an A. I'm sorry that I let word-of-mouth about the darkness of Kelly's Regencies stop me from reading her. This has obviously been a big mistake. There may be dark aspects to Nez and Liria's pasts but this is a book about triumph of good over evil and I loved it.
Blythe: It may surprise you to know that this is the first full-length book by Kelly that would earn an A from me. I have enjoyed all the others I've read, but I always felt they bogged down just a bit toward the end, which made them B reads for me. If you're looking for someplace to start, though, I'd recommend With This Ring, which would probably be my favorite after this one. For now, though, I'll join with you in making it "two thumbs way up" for One Good Turn. What's up for next month, Linda?
Linda: We are reading Head Over Heels by Susan Andersen. Andersen's road books have been very popular with great on-line buzz.
Blythe: I haven't read any of her books either, so it sounds like this may be a first for both of us.
Linda: Actually, I read one that everyone else loved and I didn't, but I am always willing to give someone a second try!
Blythe: Well, here's hoping it works for both of us. See you next month.
--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for
-- Pandora's Box
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