"The Scandalous Life of a True Lady" by Barbara Metzger

Pros: Interesting account of a weeklong party
Cons: Romance seemed to sputter instead of spark, some elements of plot didn’t feel like they meshed well
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Simone Ryland is out of money, and out of jobs. Desperate to be able to support her younger brother through school, she goes to a bawdy house looking to sell the one thing she has left: her body. But when Mrs. Burton sees her, she knows just the man to send her to. Harry Harmon is a spy for the government. He needs a talented and learned courtesan to take to a house party to uncover a scheme that threatens England. Can the two of them work together to avert disaster? And what will happen to the two of them when the party is over?

 

This book was an interesting read, but unfortunately not because of the romance. Romance is one of the three main plot threads, along with the intrigue and the garden party. As I was reading, I was struck by the feeling that plot threads were being clumsily handled one at a time instead of being seamlessly interwoven. Romantic moments seem to only happen when the two characters are alone together, which leads to a seeming lack of passion between them. I didn’t get the feeling that they were passionately in love with each other; it seemed to be more like mild attraction throughout most of the book.

Reading the book felt like changing channels. On channel one are all the interactions that occur between Simone and Harry, with most of these being behind closed doors. Channel two is an account of the party itself, while channnel three reveals Harry’s attempts to search for intrigue. The transitions between each of these three scenes felt about as smooth as clicking a button on a remote and watching the picture change completely. Channel three was also particularly frustrating to watch because Harry has so much trouble finding his intrigue that he severely compromises his cover by asking the group of men directly if they had heard anything about plots against England. Honestly, what spy worth his salt would risk blowing his cover, especially if there are good reasons why that cover should not be compromised?

The cast of characters can also get confusing. The party begins with twenty men and their courtesans. (Thankfully) not all of them are named, but most of the women get a couple of opportunities to be seen by the reader, and this can get a little confusing. I found myself having to go back and double check who did what to keep the story straight. Accounts of the party were fascinating, however, and it was interesting to watch the ways in which the women jockeyed for influence. Watching the different personalities bounce off of each other was intriguing.

As weak as the romance felt, and as distinct as the plot threads felt, this book still managed to be interesting with the tales of men and their courtesans at play. It isn’t the typical England that one sees in most novels, and made it readable. There is a good relationship between the characters even if there is a certain degree of passion missing, and one is still glad for the happy ending. This has the potential to be a good book, it just feels as if it needs a bit more polishing.

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