The Stanforth Secrets Paperback – Feb 2 2010
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About the Author
Jo Beverley is widely regarded as one of the most talented romance writers today. She is a four-time winner of Romance Writers of America's cherished RITA Award and one of only a handful of members in the RITA Hall of Fame. She has also recieved the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. Born in England, she now lives with her husband and two sons in Victoria, British Columbia, just a ferry ride away from Seattle, WA.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As a mystery, this book gets mixed reviews. I had my suspicions from the outset, and it was nice to have them confirmed. But I could never entirely be sure as to who had committed the original crime (stealing a document desired by the Government and by the French), and who had committed the various murders. As it turned out, two deaths I thought was murder turned out to be accidents. [Ouch!]. But there were some surprises in store all the same.
Was the identity of the thief clear from the outset? No, although my suspicions were raised at one point. Was the identity of the murderer clear from the outset? No, again. So my interest in the intrigue and the overall mystery kept me reading to the end.
The romance part is slighter, I agree. If you are looking for a real love story, and where the hero and heroine fall visibly in love, you will be disappointed. It is clear that Chloe made a mistake in her marriage, but not clear that she understands precisely why her match was a mistake (apart from her choosing to elope to Scotland). And yes, she was remarkably dense at times, if rather more acute at others in catching on to the real culprit. I found her rather endearing in an odd way; she reminded me of people who can be amazingly obtuse about the motivations of others.
The story is simple in one respect: the romance is between the widowed Chloe, Lady Stanforth (so called because there are two other Dowager Lady Stanforths) and the new 4th Viscount Stanforth, the cousin of her late husband and the man who helped them elope to Scotland. This romance is however a minor plot element. The real story is about governmental intrigue, about family intrigues, and all manners of secrets. There is the Dowager Viscountess (Chloe's stepmother) who is rather batty, ever since she lost her husband in 1802. There is Belinda, Lady Stanforth, the rather insecure widow of the 3rd Viscount, who was born the daughter of a prosperous local farmer. She is not quite welcome in the family and her marriage has created a number of tensions in the area. There is Justin, the new Viscount, who has just returned from the war. There is his friend Lord Randal Ashby (who it soon becomes clear is also Chloe's cousin) who comes up to Lancashire with Justin. There is a cast of secondary characters including two servants who detest each other, the friend of the 3rd Viscount and so forth. And there is Sophie and Randal's grandmother, a Dowager Duchess of Tyne.
In many respects this was a fun read, especially the risque dialogue between Chloe, Justin and Randal. The descriptions of the area surrounding Delamere Hall were a treat. The various interactions between Chloe and Belinda were also great reads.
Unfortunately the book had some problems. Firstly, although this book is billed as a regency romantic intrigue, that does not appear in the Amazon title (or in most searches for authors). For a reader expecting a typical regency romance, this book will be a disappointment. There is nothing too incredible, but the romance is distinctly undercooked here.
Secondly, both Chloe and Justin act rather irrationally at times. Justin (like the government) jumps to the conclusion that Chloe must be the culprit based simply on the fact that she was living at the house all the time. While they are quick to suspect a young woman of birth, they overlook men of birth. [In most Regency romances, women are routinely discounted as criminals because of social prejudices and preconceptions]. They fail to confide in each other early - Justin because of a promise made to higher authorities, and Chloe because of what? Justin's youthful reputation for follies, or something else. Even after they have shared their stories, they do not always confide in each other. This I find irritating. We have two people working frequently at cross-purposes, who are hardly partners. Let me also say that I find the quickness of the two to discount certain other suspects to be ridiculous, and Justin's unwillingness to examine the many recent deaths appalling. I was also troubled by the conclusion, in which a murderer got off scot-free with four murders to his/her credit, and with a spot of extortion and terrorizing as well.
The book was the 2nd Regency published by Beverley with Walker (in the now-defunct Regency program), and falls between Lord Wraybourne's Betrothed (very hard to find, because of the tiny print runs) and the next story, presumably that of Lord Randal Ashby. There is a reference here to Piers Verderan, whom some readers will recognize as the hero of EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL.
Unless you want to have a complete collection of Beverley books, borrow this book and read. At [cost], this book is a little expensive to buy.
Rating = 2.6 (higher marks for the mystery and intrigue than for the romance).
Chloe, Lady Stanforth, is the widow of Stephen, Justin's cousin, with whom Justin helped her elope when she was just seventeen. We discover, through lots of hints and introspection in the first couple of chapters, that it wasn't long before Chloe realised that she'd married the wrong cousin, and that Justin equally was in love with Chloe.
Now, however, Stephen is dead - has been dead over a year. His heir as Lord Stanforth has just died, and Justin has now inherited the title. Chloe isn't looking forward to seeing him again; she wants to leave the Stanforth estate and find a nice, conformable, boring man to marry. Delamere men are too rogueish and unreliable for her taste, and Justin's unlikely to have changed, she thinks.
Justin, who is longing to see Chloe again, gets sidetracked by the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales, who want him to investigate a missing package of information about the French, and a possible murder, at his family home. Chloe, he is told, might well be a suspect. And so he returns home not only to take up the reins of the estate, but to investigate a mystery. Lord Randal Ashby, his friend and Chloe's cousin, accompanies him - this is before Randal's own story, and so he is still a rakish bachelor.
There's lots of suspicious minor characters, lots of talk about apples and potatoes (it was unclear whether pommes or pommes de terre were involved), more suspicious deaths and confrontations. Actually, I'd figured out the villains long before the end, as well as the hiding-place of the 'pomme' concerned.
There wasn't much romance; we knew that Chloe and Justin were in love, and the romantic plot simply involved Justin trying to persuade Chloe to forget her scruples and marry him. But they didn't have very many scenes alone together; not enough to stop the mystery plot from taking over the book. I also got *very* frustrated with Chloe for being so idiotic when it was obvious that she loved Justin and he loved her, and that he was clearly much more responsible now than he'd been when he was younger. Justin's jealousy didn't work for me either.
So, while I'll keep this book as part of my Jo Beverley collection, I doubt that I'll be re-reading it. Her other work is a lot better.