Dear Ms Gaston,
A few years ago I read the first book you had published, “The Mysterious Miss M,” and was delighted that you turned a few Regency standards on their heads. I then tried another of your stories and have to be honest and say that it seemed more of what everyone else was churning out. “The Vanishing Viscountess” marks my return to your writing and while it doesn’t quite capture the novelty of “MMM,” it does offer something different from a staid London Season or a spy nobleman plot.
Adam Vickery, Marquess of Tannerton, known as Tanner to his friends, strikes the right note as a bored nobleman. He’s not a rake nor is he a spy for England, though he did help the English forces during the nightmare that followed Waterloo. He’s not too proud of what little he’s done in life nor of some latest episode that took him to Ireland. When he sees a woman prisoner aboard the ship taking him back to England, he studies her trying to figure her out. When she maintains her composure even as those around them panic as the storm hits, he’s intrigued. When the Bow Street Runner abandons her to drown as the ship goes down, he can’t stand by and watch.
Marlena Parronley knows that Tanner wouldn’t recognize her as a young debutante from years ago who mooned over him in London. She made a bad marriage then got framed for her husband’s murder by his best friend who is also her cousin. Though she avoided the law for years, it’s finally caught up to her and without the testimony of the young maid who also witnessed the murder, she knows she stands little chance of acquittal. After she and Tanner manage to save themselves and outwit the wreckers, she wonders how she can get away from him and try to flee to Scotland. He seems nice enough but she knows he knew her husband and she can’t be sure which way his loyalties would lie were her real identity to be uncovered.
Tanner has his doubts about the story Marlena spins him but senses she isn’t some hardened criminal. He wants to help her and sees in it an opportunity to finally use his position and influence to do some good. If only she’d trust him with her real identity and the facts about her case. Marlena knows that if she’s caught by the Runner following them, or anyone else for that matter, Tanner’s aid could cause him to share her fate at the end of a hangman’s noose. But neither can stop from falling in love as they duck and dodge their way across NW England and Scotland.
I like the road trip escape Marlena and Tanner decide on. There’s a real reason for the way they traveled and it gives you a nice chance to show the lives of some working class people of the time. The lessons to Tanner in how to play the simple man vs his usual status of a Marquess were fun along with the Shakespearean names they chose and them both trying to remember the name of the day.
I like Tanner’s sense of honor and that he’s mad Marlena didn’t trust him to believe her and to be able to help her. I also like that she’s experienced and that she likes the physical aspect of marriage. True she hadn’t loved her dead husband for long after their marriage but she misses contact and closeness and yes, sex. It’s a nice change that hero wasn’t the one to "awaken’ her to wonderful sex. Another aspect I enjoyed is how Marlena is proactive about helping to save herself when the chips are down. I wasn’t as crazy about her martyrish tendencies though it does show her loyalty to those she loves and feels a responsibility to. Usually I’m not wild about characters keeping important information to themselves but Marlena’s reasoning behind not telling Tanner of her identity and accused crime does make sense. It was a small world and he was bound to know Corland and her cousin.
Thank you for writing a villain who isn’t total essobee. He comes close but he does genuinely love his wife and given the norms of the time, his reasons for what he did are believable. Even the Bow Street runner isn’t totally awful in that he was just doing his job to track Marlena and also thinking of his wife and children when he takes her place in lifeboat. Not that what he did then was honorable but it wasn’t totally selfish.
I am grading down a bit because I felt the story got too over the top at the end. It began to feel like an old early 20th century silent film melodrama with a train headed down the tracks towards the tied up heroine. And I could see baby aspect of the epilogue coming from a mile off but at least you had first hubby take Marlena to a doctor before deciding she was barren. The rest of epilogue wasn’t great but I’ve read a ton worse. B-