As this novel by Georgette Heyer opens, Elinor Rochdale is on her way to a new position as a governess, a position she was forced to take up because the various scandals surrounding her father’s death left her without any other resources. But a mix-up at the coach station puts her in an entirely different and unexpected position. It turns out that a gentleman named Ned Carlyon had advertised for a young woman to come a marry his cousin, Eustace Cheviot, and Elinor ends up at Mr. Cheviot’s estate.
Elinor, quite sensibly, recognizes that Ned’s plan to marry off his cousin to a stranger is ridiculous, but when Eustace gets into what appears to be a fatal fight, she decides, in spite of herself, that marrying this stranger who will die within hours, might not be such a bad thing to do. So, overnight, she is married and widowed and becomes the owner of a large, but crumbling estate.
The whole premise of the novel is, of course, ridiculous, but that’s part of the fun. Most of the plot involves Elinor trying to figure out the various plots surrounding her new property. There are a couple of break-ins, some gunfire, a hidden staircase, and possible spies for Napoleon. I had a good time with it overall, although the story did start to get repetitive after a while. And the resolution of the spy plot struck me as kind of odd, with family reputation being prized as much as actual justice and victory over France.
The book’s primary weakness is the romance itself. Elinor and Ned have a bantering sort of relationship that is clearly meant to indicate romantic chemistry, but there’s no sense that either of them sees the other as a potential love interest until the very end of the book. Ned’s brother Nicky gets a lot more attention in the story, as does Nicky’s dog, Bouncer. The Elinor/Bouncer relationship is by far the most interesting in the book.
So, on the whole, not top-tier Heyer, but amusing enough. Of the five Heyer novels I’ve read, I think Cotillion and A Civil Contract are at the top of the heap. This would sit in the middle, ahead of The Toll-Gate and Charity Girl. I have Sylvester on my shelf to read at some point and am always interested to hear what other people’s favorites are!