Five plus stars! Caroline Linden has pulled off a hat trick – all three volumes of The Truth About the Duke series are first rate.
The series revolves around the de Lacey brothers – Charlie, the indolent, rakish heir; Edward, the dutiful, serious-minded son; and Gerard, the devil-may-care veteran of the Napoleonic wars. Their father, the Duke of Durham, has left a death-bed confession detailing his youthful marriage to an actress, which means that the duke’s marriage to the brothers’ mother may have been bigamous and that the brothers are in fact penniless bastards. A blackmailer was plaguing the duke with anonymous letters in the year before his death, and the mystery running through the series involves their efforts to find out the truth about the duke. Edward first takes charge, as he always has, and hires lawyers to investigate the facts and fight it out before Parliament (One Night in London). Gerard (Blame It on Bath) gallops off to find and kill the blackmailer. Along the way, they meet and marry their wives, settling down in domestic bliss and leaving Charlie to finally solve the mystery and claim his title.
I must pause here to compliment the author on her masterful first chapter of this book. She tells the entire backstory, as well as the moving story of Charlie’s growing up, in this chapter, and it is brilliantly done. Too often, a series author starts out with an info dump designed to catch up the reader who may not have read the earlier volumes. At the other extreme, there is a paucity of information, which leaves the frustrated reader wondering “who?” or “what?” Ms. Linden avoids both extremes here, and by the end of the first chapter the reader is fully engaged in the story. (As a result, this book works very well as a stand alone, but the entire series is so delightful that I recommend reading it in order.)
Left with no other option, Charlie sobers up and reluctantly sets out to find and confront the blackmailer. He’s not too optimistic, though, as he’s never really accomplished anything worthwhile. Mainly he’s devoted himself to living up to his father’s opinion of him as a worthless fribble.
Charlie’s pursuit takes him to the York Hotel in Bath, where he accidentally learns that Tessa Neville, a fellow guest, is somehow connected to Hiram Scott, the suspected blackmailer. A suspicious Charlie uses his considerable charm to inveigle Tessa’s elderly companion and thereby meet Tessa. Tessa has no use for Charlie; she views him as just another arrogant, useless, pampered aristocrat. Tessa, a widow in her late twenties, is an unusual woman, who applies her common sense and business acumen to managing her viscount brother’s affairs. She has come to Bath to investigate a proposed canal, run by Hiram Scott, in which her brother is considering investing, and she has no time or inclination to become captivated by Charlie. He, on the other hand, becomes captivated by her, even as he remains wary that she may somehow be involved in the blackmail scheme.
Charlie follows Tessa to the village of Frome, where he feigns an interest in the canal in order to meet Hiram Scott. Gradually, Charlie and Tessa become friends, then allies, and finally lovers. But all does not go smoothly, and both Charlie and Tessa must weather some rough patches before finding their HEA. Charlie learns that he needs a woman like Tessa, who will stand by him and bring out the best in him, and Tessa needs a confident man like Charlie who will respect her intelligence and let her make the most of her talents. Theirs is a wonderful, romantic partnership.
Does Charlie find the answers he needs to retain his title? I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that Ms. Linden devises a clever, believable series of twists that satisfactorily resolve the mystery.
I have only two criticisms. The first third or so of this book drags on a bit too long. I became quite impatient for something to happen by the time Charlie and Tessa got to Frome. Second, after a few days in Frome, Tessa does something so unexpected and shocking that my jaw literally dropped. There is simply no explanation for her behavior, no interior monologue that would have explained her motivation for such a rash and uncharacteristic act. These are mere bumps along the way, however, and I still give this book a five-star rating.
Heartfelt thanks to Avon and Edleweiss for the chance to read an ARC of this book.