Although Amanda Grange has written traditional Regency romances for British publisher Robert Hale for years, she has become more widely known for her Jane Austen point-of-view stories like Mr. Darcy’s Diary, retelling Austen’s novels from the hero’s viewpoint. I have read some of these and found them better than most of the other Austen-inspired tales. However, they depend very much on the text they are derived from, so I was curious whether I would like an original Amanda Grange novel, in this case Lord Deverill’s Secret, and delighted to find out I did.
Cassandra Paxton comes to Brighton with two goals: She needs to sell the house she inherited from her brother a year ago, and she needs to talk to his friends. Rupert lived a dissolute gambler and died in a riding accident at night. Among his papers, Cassandra found a note referring to “something terrible” he did, and she believes she must find out what he meant in order to make amends if she can. Because he was heavily in debt, she needs to sell the Brighton house to pay the mortgages on the manor house where she lives with her younger sister.
The first friend of her brother’s she makes inquiries of is Justin, Lord Deverill – not his closest friend, but the one she can contact most easily, as he, too, owns a house in Brighton. She visits him there, accompanied only by her maid, and he assures her that Rupert’s note must refer to a silly wager, but she intends to ask others anyway. In the meantime, she takes part in the pleasures Brighton offers in the company of her married friend Maria – bathing in the sea, dancing at assemblies, visiting the lending library, and often encountering Lord Deverill. The story is set in 1805, when the Prince of Wales was still in the middle phase of his building activities, and Amanda Grange succeeds in creating a convincing picture and real feel of the town and its surroundings.
Cassie is a little too insistent in asking all her brother’s friends about the note – after all, she has no reason to distrust the reassuring answers she receives, and it is more than likely it really is about an unsavory wager, in which case she couldn’t do anything about it anyway. But apart from that, her situation is presented in a delightfully realistic way. She is, if not destitute, comparatively poor, as is Lord Deverill, and the impact of her financial situation on her life-style and the choices she has to make are depicted convincingly. Because she is very beautiful - if virtually dowerless - she faces both the option of marrying for money and several offers of carte blanche from men she meets in Brighton. Amanda Grange describes this without any melodrama, and I found it much more plausible than similar situations in many other novels.
Of course nothing is as it seems with Rupert’s secret and his death, and we know from the start that Lord Deverill is hiding something. We also get to know that he has been fascinated with Cassie since he saw a locket with her picture that her brother owned. Now that he sees that she is sweet-natured and charming as well as beautiful, he quickly falls in love with her, although he fights the attraction – because he is poor, and because of Rupert’s secrets. He and the other characters are ordinary, likable people, and the decisions they take are influenced by common sense and the desire to do the right thing. You can imagine my disappointment when during the final confrontation with the villain he turns out to be of the frothing-at-the-mouth variety! This detour into high melodrama came as a complete surprise...and an entirely unwarranted one.
Apart from that the events of the novel develop in a fairly down-to-earth way, actually reminiscent of Jane Austen, to whom Amanda Grange pays tribute in three scenes that refer to Pride and Prejudice. And before you think “copy-cat”, let me reassure you that they do so with a twist. One word about Amanda Grange’s style: While it is pleasant enough and nicely descriptive, it lacks a certain sparkle and elegance. In addition there are some repetitions that seem a bit plodding.
Lord Deverill’s Secret is a pleasant romance with nice characters and a great sense of atmosphere, which will appeal to those who enjoy traditional Regencies. The over-the-top villain lowered the novel slightly in my esteem, but I would still give it a qualified recommendation.
-- Rike Horstmann
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