REVIEW: What a Gentleman Wants by Caroline Linden
Dear Ms. Linden,
A while back, Jane reviewed your second novel, What a Gentleman Wants, and gave it a B. After enjoying your debut, What a Woman Needs (a B- for me), I thought I'd give your second book a try. I wish I liked it as much as Jane did, but for me, What a Gentleman Wants wasn't quite as enjoyable as your debut.
The first scene in What a Gentleman Wants introduces twin brothers David and Marcus Reece. Marcus is the Duke of Exeter, while David is merely his heir and scapegrace, ne'er do well brother. When Marcus catches David with a married woman, he sends him to Brighton. It's on his way there that David has a carriage accident in the Hamlet of Middleborough. Because he can't be moved, Hannah Preston, the vicar's widow, takes him into her cottage until his recovery.
During his convalescence, David realizes what an admirable woman Hannah is, hardworking and responsible. Although she is not a member of the nobility, he realizes she is a better person than he, and decides that he can too become a better man, with Hannah as his inspiration and his role model. So David asks Hannah to marry him.
Hannah isn't in love with David, or even attracted to him, but economic constraints are about to force her to move into her father's house, and she does not want her four year old daughter Molly to grow up under his roof. So Hannah agrees to marry David, little realizing that soon afterward he changes his mind.
Under the influence of his friend Percy, David has a brainstorm and decides to do something he hasn't done in years: forge his brother's signature, this time on a marriage license. In this way, Hannah will end up with money when Marcus inevitably pays her off, and David will have a chance to tweak his annoyingly perfect and autocratic brother.
After the marriage ceremony, David brings the unsuspecting Hannah and her daughter to the house of Marcus's mistress and leaves them there. He sends Marcus a letter, a marriage announcement to the Times, and another missive to his stepmother and sister, filled with a tall tale of Marcus and Hannah's whirlwind courtship.
When Marcus discovers what his brother has done he is furious, but he can't bear to break his stepmother and sister's hearts by revealing David's deception, so he makes a deal with the equally infuriated Hannah. If Hannah, who wants no part of Marcus, will remain in London for a month pretending to be his wife and then retire to the country, Marcus will settle a dowry on her daughter, and give Hannah a cottage of her own. Although Hannah has misgivings, she agrees.
It takes over a hundred pages for the book to come to this point, and over forty pages go by before Hannah and Marcus even meet. While I liked the premise, I felt that this was too long for the book to come to this point, and I did not become engaged in the story until a good sixty pages into it.
Part of that was because I was impatient for Hannah and Marcus to begin interacting, and part of it was because I felt that there were some unnecessary explanations of David and Hannah's characters and their feelings in that section of the book. I would have preferred to see these aspects of the characters revealed through actions and gestures, so that I could then infer my own conclusions about the characters. Subtlety engages my imagination in a deeper way, and I wanted more of that in this book, and especially in its early sections. I nearly gave up and stopped reading during that beginning portion of the book.
You have a pleasant voice that I enjoy reading, so I persisted, and once Hannah and Marcus began their masquerade as husband and wife, you did a wonderful job of evoking the unwanted attraction that developed between them. There are some terrific scenes in which Marcus and Hannah are thrust into one another's company, and later, other ones in which they begin to seek reasons to be in each other's sphere. You have a genuine gift for depicting romantic longing, and here I had all the subtlety I could want –" a look here, a touch there, a near kiss, all had me melting.
Unfortunately, this section of the book does not last as long as I wanted it to. While I'm glad that no immature misunderstandings or contrivances got in Hannah and Marcus's way, I'm also disappointed that the question of their love for one another was settled rather quickly, and the book soon detoured into a suspense plot about counterfeiting that didn't feel well-integrated into the story. This then goes on for well over fifty pages.
In the end, I feel that the book is like a sandwich, with its slow beginning and suspense plot ending comprising two rather stale pieces of bread and the middle a delicious and very appetizing gourmet filling that I want a lot more of.
I'm also left with questions about Marcus's stepmother Rosalind's eagerness to welcome a nobody like Hannah into the family and the role of duchess. The reason given is that Marcus refused to ever marry, but that too, doesn't quite ring true to the times, and to his position, without a deeper look into his character than just the mentions of his annoyance at women's pursuit of him. I kept expecting a deft psychological exploration of his motives, like the ones you provided for the main characters in What a Woman Needs, but in this case, there wasn't one.
I enjoyed parts of What a Gentleman Wants very much; others, not so much, and I'm left with a difficult decision as to what grade to give the book. The writing is clearly better than average, but I know I won't reread it, and so, looking once again at our review grade explanation I settle on C+.