RogerBW's Blog

A Gentleman of Fortune, Anna Dean 26 May 2015

2009 historical detection, second in Dean's Dido Kent series. Rich invalid Mrs Lansdale has died, of an overdose of laudanum. Her nephew stands to inherit. But did he do it?

It is, of course, much more complicated than that. There's plenty of social fending, a threatened elopement and lots of malicious rumour; many people have multiple layers of secrets.

That may be the problem. To behave solely so as to protect secret A, until it is revealed, then to reverse one's behaviour to protect secret B, just sits wrongly with me: that character didn't have any reason to suppose that A would be discovered before B, and should have been hiding both secrets. It's just a touch too artificial. One young woman ends up doing exactly what her nasty stepmother wants her to do, having spent the book in panicked struggle against it, apparently because that's how the gaps lined up when it was time to finish the story.

Dido Kent, the spinster heroine of this series, maintained my interest in A Moment of Silence by cunning deduction. Here she is just as assured that she is always right, but she charges off down false trails, apparently not caring who might get hurt when her part-complete speculations are revealed, and thus loses my sympathy. (Why was it necessary to dig out the new Lady Carrisbrooke's secret at all? And did Sir Joshua, or did he not, know it anyway? The plot doesn't work if he didn't, but it also doesn't work if he did.) The potential romance for her which was hinted at in the first book is explored here, but very slowly, and it feels as though it's being deliberately drawn out. Although it seems here to end in an engagement at the end of the book, I place a private bet that nothing will come of it for at least one more volume, probably two. (And the cunning if distinctly morally dubious plan that she hatched at the end of book 1, to free the gentleman in question from his other obligations, isn't mentioned here at all.)

The action this time occurs in Richmond; a river is mentioned occasionally, and people go to London for the day, but for all the actual detail we get it might as well be the Richmond in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Where are the exotic gardens in Kew Park? Hampton Court Palace and the Maze? Surely something distinctive could have been found?

There are echoes of Emma here (a strawberry party, word games, and others that would give away plot details to mention) and I wonder whether this book suffers from being pushed into that mould.

It's an odd book, this, technically well-written but somehow lacking in soul. Everything that should be here is here, but it never quite comes together as an integrated whole. The pace is sluggish at best, and perhaps this book is best suited to a warm and drowsy summer day by a river.

Series recommended by Michael Cule. Followed by A Woman of Consequence.

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