REVIEW: Too Hot to Handel by Sheri Cobb South
NOTE – this is the fifth full length novel in this series and spoilers for previous books are revealed in the blurb.
When a rash of jewel thefts strikes London, magistrate Patrick Colquhoun resolves to deploy his Bow Street Runners to put a stop to the thefts. The Russian Princess Olga Fyodorovna is to attend a production of Handel’s Esther at Drury Lane Theatre, where she will wear a magnificent diamond necklace. The entire Bow Street force will be stationed at various locations around the theatre–including John Pickett, who will occupy a box directly across the theatre from the princess.
In order to preserve his incognito, Pickett must appear to be nothing more than a private gentleman attending the theatre. Mr. Colquhoun recommends that he have a female companion–a lady, in fact, who might prevent him from making any glaring faux pas.
But the only lady of Pickett’s acquaintance is Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, to whom he accidentally contracted a Scottish irregular marriage several months earlier, and with whom he is seeking an annulment against his own inclinations–and for whom he recklessly declared his love, secure in the knowledge that he would never see her again.
The inevitable awkwardness of their reunion is forgotten when the theatre catches fire. Pickett and Julia, trapped in a third tier box, must escape via a harrowing descent down a rope fashioned from the curtains adorning their box. Once outside, Pickett is struck in the head and left unconscious. Suddenly it is up to Julia not only to nurse him back to health, but to discover his attacker and bring the culprit to justice.
Dear Ms. Cobb South,
Well, it’s getting close to crunch time on the annulment (which appears to adhere to actual laws) for Julia and John – two people desperately in love but separated by British class distinctions. Poor John is willing to have his manhood impinged in order to free Julia from their irregular Scottish marriage. But Fate in the person of matchmaker Magistrate Colquhoun of Bow Street might have something to say – and do – about that. I’ve said it before but I still love the continuing mentor/mentee almost father/son relationship between the crusty Scotsman and the young man he plucked from amongst the pickpockets of London and groomed for better things. An actual historical event gets incorporated in the story – though slightly altered for the plot – yielding the jumping off point on which the plot hinges.
We know how John feels about Julia – he would die for her if needed – but he won’t trap her in a marriage that would cost her her place in Society. The truth of her feelings for John have been gradually dawning on Julia but she knows what she stands to lose. As she nurses John after his injury – and thank you for sticking to medicine of the day – she has a lot of time to think hard about their future. The old chestnut plot device of a character in mortal danger being the catalyst for another to finally acknowledge the truth of their own feelings is used here but Julia also “lives” the life as she stays in John’s two room flat and has to cope with doing for herself at times. The long hours give her plenty of time to go into her future with her eyes wide open.
She also sticks her oar into the investigation a little though with mixed results. I think this more believable than a sudden evolution into “Nancy Drew.” The villain of the story isn’t that hard to figure out – nor are his motives. Since the body of the book is about Julia coming to terms with her feelings, having John “out of the action” so to speak makes sense even if I might wish him a bit more conscious.
Their “books long in the making” relationship fulfillment is lovely. Julia’s decision is based on sound realizations and the knowledge that she might eventually have some regrets but that John is worth any and all of them. And yay! that Julia begins to stand up against the bullying of the Fieldhursts. The next family dinner party ought to be interesting. B