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Marion Chesney

November 4, 2014

Lately, I’ve been reading a TON of books by Marion Chesney (a.k.a. M.C. Beaton). Audible either just them or just started recommending them to me. Either way, I’ve listened to five of her books in the last month. On the whole, I quite like them. Most of the books keep it to about a PG-13 rating, so they’re more akin to the Georgette Heyer style of romance. Sex is occasionally acknowledged, but not described.
Marion Chesney also has some Edwardian murder mysteries that I read quite some time ago. They’re not my favorites, but they are a rather good compromise between the cozy and the historical mystery. They’re not rigorously accurate, nor are they terribly complex mysteries. It’s been lone enough since I read them that I won’t try to review them here.

A House for the Season

I’ve mentioned the first two books in this series already. As I mentioned in the previous post, this series centers around a house in London situated at #67 Clarges Street. The staff is trapped by the estate manager who is blackmailing the butler and the footman with previous indiscretions and simply refusing references to the rest of the staff. He charges the owner high rates, but pays the staff barely enough to live on, forcing them to rely on the generosity of any seasonal tenants the house might attract.
However, the property is considered unlucky and in gambling mad London that is practically the kiss of death. The previous owner, the Duke of Pelham hanged himself there, and two previous tenants were ruined. The son of the first tenants lost all their money gambling while the daughter of the next tenants died under mysterious circumstances. So, only the people likely to rent the house are either desperate or pathetically clueless.
The books are much of a muchness. The girl finds her man, the servants help, but cannot manage to break away from the odious Palmer despite receiving help from the various tenants. But, they are fun, escapist literature. I would not, however, recommend emulating me and reading quite so many back to back.
miserThe Miser of Mayfair is the first book in the series.
Mr Roderick Sinclair is on the point of hanging himself to avoid the workhouse when he receives the news that his disgustingly rich brother has died. Sure that his troubles are over he trots off to the lawyer’s only to find that rather than leaving him any money, his brother has left him a ward. Fiona Sinclair is stunningly beautiful, but not, on the surface, terribly bright.
Mr Sinclair lands upon the scheme of taking Fiona to London and marrying her off to a fabulously wealthy man, thus setting them both up. However, he has no money for a London season. Fiona hits upon the idea of saying that he is a wealthy miser with a heart condition. This will explain why their things are shabby and they throw no parties, while at the same time making everyone assume that she is an heiress.
Fiona sets her heart on marrying the Earl of Harrington, who is notoriously unapproachable. However, she intrigues him. She is a contradiction between seeming to say just what she thinks while coming across as innocent and slightly stupid to most of the ton.

It’s an entertaining book and it can be delightful to see the way Fiona plays with everyone. The Earl seems to vacillate back and forth between rather a bastard and a reasonable man. I certainly wouldn’t want to marry him. One problem with many of Chesney’s heroes is that they are a bit too aggressively unapproachable. They’re not very nice people and I don’t buy into the “love of a good woman will reform him” shtick. So, while I enjoy the stories, I also find many of them problematic. The Earl spends a fair amount of time accusing Fiona of being an adventuress and seems all too ready to believe the worst of her without actually hearing her side. (This comes up in other books as well.) If you can read relatively uncritically though, this series is fun.
I quite like the servants, who are the backbone of the series, although they also have their flaws.

janePlain Jane
This time we have a perfectly respectable family, although the mother, while not quite a miser, is careful with a coin, hence why they have taken #67. The family has two sisters, Euphemia who is as lovely as an angel and Jane who is considered too plain to be worth bothering with. This leaves her time to pine after Lord Tregarthan, one of London’s exquisites, and to investigate the mysterious death of Miss Clara Vere-Saxton, the young woman whose death helped give #67 its bad reputation.
Lord Tregarthan, through the machinations of Rainbird, the butler, meets Jane before he meets Euphemia. He becomes intregued with the quieter sister as compared to the outrageous flirt that is Euphemia. He agrees to help Jane in her detecting as a lark.

This entry into the series is fairly uncomplicated. There are various machinations which make the family fashionable or unfashionable, but none of them are problematic for me. They all have to do with the behavior of Jane’s mother and sister.  Lord Tregarthan, while not the most intellectual of gentlemen, is, nevertheless, kind.
godmotherThe Wicked Godmother 
Harriet Metcalf is young, poor, and beautiful. Which is why tongues start wagging in her small village when Sir Benjamin Hayner makes her not only the godmother of his twin daughters, but the manager of his estate until their twenty-fifth birthdays. The gossip is especially vicious since it comes from the two girls themselves. Of course everyone has to believe the terrible things about Harriet when the girls’ own maid is the one telling them!
Not knowing anything about the girls’ real feelings for her, Harriet takes them to London for the season where she catches the attention of not one, but TWO eligible men.
Lord Vere and the Marquess of Huntingdon are both enchanted by the pretty chaperon. Harriet has no idea that they’re both interested in her and thinks that they are paying court to her charges instead.

This is the volume I have the most trouble with. First of all, Harriet seems almost willfully naive. She’s supposed to come across as sweet, but it gets a bit annoying at times. Second, this is the other book I had in mind when I talked about the love interest being much too quick to believe ill of our heroine. The Marquess of Huntingdon has some sort of tragedy in his past where a woman betrayed him, so when the twins start up gossip about Harriet he accepts it with no hesitation. And, in fact, quickly becomes the sort of man I wouldn’t want anywhere near a friend of mine. The fact that he comes around does not, in my mind, make up for his previous behavior.

rakeRake’s Progress
This is the first book where the gentleman takes the house at #67 rather than a lady. Lord Guy Carlton is recently invalided from the war against Napoleon and is determined to make up for lost time with wine, women, and song. Mostly wine and women though. He throws a party full of prostitutes on his second night in the house, insults Rainbird, and terrifies the maids. But, he is not actually a terrible man. Once he learns that the pretty maid does NOT want to scrub his back, he leaves her alone. He gives the staff bonuses to make up for having to clean up after the party, and promises to take his amusement elsewhere in future. He also has accidentally found the woman of his dreams. By walking into her house, dead drunk, in the middle of the night and trying to kiss her. Not the best first impression.
Miss Esther Jones is possibly the richest woman in London. She speculates on the Change, invests her money wisely, and spends very little of it. She lives a completely quiet and retired life in town, as far away from the scandal her dissipated father left behind as she can get. He was a rake of the first order and so she has a horror of the breed. It will take all of Rainbird’s considerable intellect to get these two together.

This one was fine, but I was getting a little burned out by this point. There were a few too many instances of willful misunderstandings, but most of them were over fairly quickly.

pineappleAt the Sign of the Golden Pineapple
This is from a completely different series.
Henrietta Bascombe is an impoverished gentleman’s daughter who has inherited a small fortune. Rather than doing the proper thing and using it as a dowry for herself, Henrietta has determined to go into trade by opening a confectioners shop inLondon. And, to make matters worse, she has taken three other gentlewomen with her. There is her housemate and former school teacher, a young, beautiful army widow of good family, and the local squire’s daughter who is tired of being beaten whenever the mood strikes him.
The other three women are only in it until they can raise enough money to have dowrys in the younger ladies case and a “proper funeral” in the older’s. Henrietta, on the other hand, wants to be rich; filthy, stinking rich.
The Earl of Carrisdowne is concerned. His best friend, younger brother, and sister are all under the sway of Bascombe’s the new confectioners. His sister is growing fat on their sweets, while his friend and brother seem to have fallen for the wiles of the two pretty shop girls. Carrisdowne does not believe that they could be actual gentlewomen and sets out to close the shop down, thus pitting himself directly against Henrietta.

I’ll be honest. I quit this book before the end. The Earl was too much of a bastard while Henrietta seemed underdone and limp. Carrisdowne, because he disapproves of the way other adults spend their time, sets out to close down the shop, without a care as to the livelihood of the four women who work there. Then, when that doesn’t work, he plans to make Henrietta fall in love with him so he can dump her and make her close the shop due to embarrassment and a broken heart. What a prince.
Henrietta, on the other hand, declares that she has no interest in marriage and then turns around and decides to marry Carrisdowne as soon as he shows a healthy interest. The whole book would have been over much sooner if not for the machinations of Henrietta’s servant and the spoiled young woman who wants to marry Carrisdowne herself. I quit just as the servant was about to say something terrible about Henrietta to Carrisdowne. I just couldn’t handle one more scene of elaborately orchestrated betrayal.
Maybe if you haven’t glutted yourself on Regency romances you might like this one. The Goodreads reviews seem to run the gamut.

 

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