A Dedicated Scoundrel
1997, Regency Romance
Signet, $4.99, 224 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451192540
Part of a series
Though published by Signet in 1997 and no longer in print, Robert Hale is reissuing this trad Regency in hardcover in the U.K. in 2008. The ISBN for the UK reissue is 0709083483.
When I picked up the Robert Hale reissue of A Dedicated Scoundrel, my eyebrows rose when I saw that it combines Regency spies with an amnesia plot. I do not care for either of these plots in general, but I found myself loving the characters. Indeed, I thought these characters strong enough to carry off both spydom and amnesia.
The story begins with Major Lord Justin Belforte on the run. Formerly one of Wellingtonís top intelligence officers on the Spanish Peninsula, Juston was captured by the French during the escape of a captive French general. These same French let him escape under suspicious circumstances, and attacked again close to British lines. When Justin hears that a dead body has been found which bears a strong resemblance to himself, and it is actually declared to be him, he believes that he is being framed for the generalís escape, and that someone wants him dead quite desperately.
Justin returns to England and contacts the few people he absolutely trusts: an officer friend, his mentor at the Foreign Office, a clerk who owes him a favor, and a member of the London underworld. Then he leaves London, intending to lie low on one of his fatherís lesser seats. (His estranged father is the Duke of Sheffield.) Instead, while on the road he saves a lady and her dog from a collapsing shed and gets hit on the head. When he regains consciousness, he has no idea who he is. He remembers only a few hours later, but once he does so, he quickly recognizes his hostsí home as the perfect hiding place, and so he continues to pretend that he is still amnesiac.
The family who have so kindly taken in ĎJohn Smithí are Lady Jane Winter, her granddaughter, Miss Catherine Meade, and their cousin, Mrs. Mariah Bredelove. Although their house, Winterís Keep, is close to London, they live a very quiet life with little company. Many years ago, during her first season, Catherine ran away with a fortune-hunting rogue, who claimed (wrongly) that she had slept with him to pressure her into marriage. Her eyes opened to his perfidy, she refused him, but paid for it by becoming an outcast from society. Now approching 30, she successfully manages her own estate, and has little interest in romance.
This changes almost instantly when she meets Justin. They are strongly attracted to each other, but there are some obstacles. Justin soon remembers the scandal surrounding Catherine, and thinking her virtue has been breached before, he makes a pass at her. He accepts being rejected with good grace, but Catherine gets upset with him. In addition, she (rightly) feels he remembers more than heís letting on, and wonders if she can trust him.
Justin is a man who does not like himself. As a boy and young man, he faced constant criticism from his father, leading him to see himself as a bad person. Living the life of a spy with all the lies and deceptions necessary to the job has done nothing to improve his sense of self-worth. Catherine and the reader instantly see that Justin is really a good and honorable man, but Anne Barbour leaves an ambivalent side to him which shows itself when he tries to seduce Catherine or in his attitude towards his father.
I liked A Dedicated Scoundrel. There is action, sexual tension (even with the kisses rating), and the engaging characters have the space to present their different facets. I liked the fact that both hero and heroine are mature characters and mostly act like it. My only small niggle is that I found the way Justinís problem is solved at the end a bit too easy. The novel showed me once again what quality writing we have lost due to the decline of the traditional Regency. If you think the price too steep to buy the new hardback edition, maybe you can convince your library to acquire a copy, and give other readers the opportunity to enjoy this book, too. If not, search those used bookstores for the original version.
-- Rike Horstmann
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