REVIEW: Lady Be Good by Heather Hiestand
When exiled royalty and espionage combine, expect a romance as bold as the 1920s . . .
Olga Novikov is a princess without a throne. Her fiancé and her family slain in the revolution, she flees Russia and finds herself working as the head of housekeeping at London’s luxurious Grand Russe Hotel. It’s a far cry from the glamour of her former life, but she’s grateful for the job—until a guest forces her to question where her loyalty lies. The charming nobleman challenges her at every turn—and arouses dreams of romance she thought she’d abandoned forever . . .
Douglas “Glass” Childers is living a double life. On the surface, he’s the indolent Viscount Walling, but in truth he’s an intelligence agent searching for a Bolshevik weapons master. The coolly beautiful and headstrong housekeeper is a distraction he doesn’t need—unless she’s the key piece in the puzzle he must solve. Trusting her could be dangerous—but loving her is an undeniable temptation . . .
Dear Ms. Hiestand,
After meeting her in the second book of “The Grand Russe Hotel” series, I was intrigued by Olga Novikov – who doesn’t use the Russian form of her name as the English don’t do that. She is one of the aristocratic survivors of the Russian Revolution now in exile and eking out a living in London. Her cool and seemingly hard exterior belies the brittle truth of a woman trying to start again with nothing and almost no one. But I also learned a bit of a lesson about the blurb of the other book I read and as such took this one with a grain of salt.
Our hero Douglas – “Glass” as he’s more commonly known to friends – is the heir to an Earldom but he’s hardly indolent. Instead he too is a survivor being the youngest of four sons and the only one to come home from the war in France. His losses have scarred him as much as Olga’s have forever changed her. Her last name catches his attention, though, as she might be connected to a Bloshie bomber named Konstantin Novikov. Desperate to capture the man before his bombs go off again, Glass presses Olga for information in addition to keeping an eye on a Russian “trade delegation” living in the hotel where Olga works.
Olga knows of Konstantin’s proclivities – his branch of the family was in disgrace for various and assorted actions and behaviors before the war and Revolution – but as he’s the last survivor she knows of from her family, she desperately wants to believe he can be reformed and saved. Her attitude might baffle then anger Glass but it makes sense for her to cling any blood relation she has left.
What she initially doesn’t understand is why Glass is staying in one of the Grand Russe’s luxury suites for so long. There has been clandestine activity there already as seen in the rest of the series but I was in agreement with Glass’s boss that he seemed to be putting in a lot of effort listening in on the Russians living next door to him with nothing to show for it. And frankly this part of the book dragged as yes, stake outs really are that dull.
What I liked about this story is the relationship between Olga and Glass and the depiction of this somewhat gray and dreary world. Post World War I London might have Bright Young Things, be dancing the Charleston and drinking the flowing champagne but beneath the surface there was crime and espionage and the British spy services desperately trying to keep an eye on several fronts with vastly reduced personnel with which to do it. Olga grew up in a world of luxury and ease but is now only able to relive bits and pieces of her lost world in the form of the glamorous décor of the hotel where she works hard and has just been promoted to head of housekeeping.
When she first meets Glass, she does think of how marrying him could make her life easier. This is a world in which so many women were rendered superfluous by the loss of so many men in the war and if a woman had a chance for marriage, she grabbed it. Glass views their relationship very dispassionately too. As the sole remaining son and at the age of 31, he knows the future of his house is on him and though Olga won’t bring money or land, she is a noble of an equal rank to him and thus despite her work as a chambermaid, not socially unacceptable. His father likes her too and gives his blunt view on her suitability after a dinner at the Savoy. His attitude is more a throwback to the 19th century aristocratic mating of lineages and bloodlines than the up and coming modern one of “love.”
When Glass and a friend of Olga’s simultaneously foul up their relationships with her, I like that she sticks to her guns and doesn’t let either of them off easily. She has a moment when she has to decide if she can and will tolerate the situation and she makes them both work to get back in her good graces. After all she’d been through and lost, it’s a testament to her inner fortitude. At one point she muses that she’s pulled herself up from nothing before and if she has to do it again she can, unlike some of the exiled Russian aristocracy who can only dither and long for their past lives.
At the end, when she and Glass talk I feel that they might have started out in a purely practical arrangement but in the interim and after their trials by fire, they have realized their true feelings. Now if the hotel manager can be weaned from his continuing toxic romantic relationship and a Russian assassin can be caught … but maybe that’s to be continued in the next book. B