Book Review: To Save a Viscount
Someday Lady Publishing, 2014
Jessie Clever continues her fast-paced, playful “Spy Series” with the best book so far in the series, To Save a Viscount. As with all the previous volumes, Clever plunges her readers into the deep end of her story of romance and espionage in Regency London – in this case literally, as we encounter wry, heroic Richard Black, the Duke of Lofton, underwater in the Thames, on the brink of drowning and, in his extremis, thinking of his beloved wife Jane:
He thought of her in pieces. Her smell. Her laugh. The sound her hair made as she brushed it at night. The way she always laid her hand on top of his whenever they should find themselves sitting next to one another. Her amazing talents with chestnut toasters.
Immediately before his dunking, he’d heard a gunshot, and when he’d first tried to claw his way to the surface, a woman’s strong hand had held him down – and out of sight of his would-be assassin. When the danger has passed and Lofton is coughing and spluttering in the hot London air, he sees immediately who it was who saved him: his War Office colleague and fellow intelligence agent Lady Margaret Folton, a steely, ultra-competent character who has some dark (and, in Clever’s hands, funny) tidings about Lofton’s unknown would-be assassin.
It’s a corker of an opening gimmick: it turns out that four senior clandestine War Office agents had been for years collaborating on a heavily-coded book listing the identities of all the bureau’s agents (the oldest and truest Maguffin all of spy literature, regardless of historical era), and the book’s contents have obviously been compromised. And to give matters the extra twist that characterizes all her books, Clever has icy Lady Folton grudgingly admit that the situation is even worse than it seems: in addition to the problem of divulged private information, there’s also the fact that those four book-compiling agents, in an attempt to create a trap for the would-be assassin, created a red herring, a fake nobleman-agent complete with fake assignments.
The problem? Just recently, the Prince Regent saw fit to grant that fake nobleman’s title to a living, breathing person: recently-returned military hero Commodore John Lynwood, who’s now both Viscount Pemberly and, as Lofton instantly sees, a walking target for the assassin himself.
Even before the walking target himself knows anything about his new peril, he’s thoroughly disgusted with his new social status:
He was tired of all the callers. He was tired of the cards, of the invitations, of the inexplicable number of bouquets. First, it disturbed him that so many matrons would send him bouquets in the first order, and why on earth they should do that. Secondly, they were all terribly ugly. He could arrange a far more exquisite ensemble with just what he had here in this half makeover atrocity of his newly acquired townhouse garden. Were these society matrons really trying to welcome him to their brethren with terrible bouquets? What an outrageously stupid idea. If this is what it meant to be a viscount, he was happy to go back to being just a commodore.
Lady Folton pulls up her stylish gloves and matter-of-factly determines to position herself as the new viscount’s protector, at least until the assassin can be uncovered. And in classic Regency romance fashion, the complications of danger and intrigue ensue, and Clever – by now an old hand at this sort of thing – carries it all forward with energy and enthusiasm. Despite some annoying typos in the course of the text (a chronic problem with this series; Someday Lady Publishing could stand to hire an in-house editor with positively Prussian severity), this is a happily enjoyable continuation to the “Spy Series” sequence.