Reading Liz Carlyle is eventually like going to a big, extended family reunion populated with some very interesting relatives. This is not a complaint. Nobody does interrelated characters as well as Liz. And boy are there plenty of interrelations. My favorite uncle, George Kemble, who is not related to many but is involved with a surprising number of them, usually turns up at the reunion. Let’s pour Uncle George a nice Cognac and have him take us through a few of the families with which he is involved.
We first meet George Jacob Kemble in My False Heart, Liz Carlyle’s first book. Kemble is valet to the book’s bad-boy hero, Elliot Armstrong, Marquis of Rannoch.
Exhaling a long column of smoke, Elliot stared up from his chair in veiled amusement at the willowy, middle-aged man who now stood sniffing disdainfully before him. Kemble, who made no secret of his abhorrence of cigar smoke, flailed a cambric handkerchief ineffectually back and forth in a gesture designed solely, as they both knew, to annoy the marquis.
Kemble is wonderfully outspoken and opinionated, but apparently so good at what he does that Elliot is willing to put up with him.
The next two delightful books in Liz Carlyle’s oeuvre are A Woman Scorned, introducing us to the Cameron and Amherst families (who we will see in later books) and Beauty Like the Night, where we meet the Rutledges.
We do not see George Kemble again until Carlyle’s fourth, A Woman of Virtue, in which he appears in David, Lord Delacourt’s bedchamber. David, you should know, is half-brother to Jonet Cameron, whom we met in A Woman Scorned. Kemble has been sent by The Marquis of Rannoch (remember him from My False Heart?), at Jonet’s request, to straighten David out. And our dear Kemble is more than up to it.
“Now let us understand one another, my lord,” he firmly began, giving another haughty hand toss. “I have a reputation to uphold. I shall agree to work here. But in return, you must agree not to go running about town rigged out like some overdressed Bow Street Runner. I simply cannot abide it.”
No True Gentleman has one of my favorite heroes, Max de Rohan, displaced Alsatian nobleman, former River Policeman, now working for the Home Office, who travels with a huge dog. His heroine is Catherine Wodeway, sister to Cam and Bentley Rutledge (whom we met in Beauty Like the Night), the latter of whom bitterly objects to Catherine’s relationship with Max. By now, Kemble has left the valet business is now a Purveyor of Elegant Oddities and Fine Folderol. He first appears in this book as an inscription in the front of The Fine Gentleman’s Etiquette, a book which he has given to Max.
Eventually, a diamond in the rough needs polish.
Yr. most Humble servant,
George Jacob Kemble
Later we learn, that Kemble is also not above doing a little investigating for Max. When they meet at dinner one evening, Max gives him a list of suspects and tells him he will call on him the next day.
At that, Kemble lifted both his brows. “Ooh, well! Call me intrigued!” he answered, tucking the slip of paper back into de Rohan’s hand with another little pat. “Be a dear and do bring Mr. Sisk. One never knows when one will need to sharpen one’s claws on something that’s overstuffed and inanimate.”
The Rutledges reappear in The Devil You Know This is Bentley Rutledge’s book. His heroine is Frederica D’Avillez, whom we met in My False Heart. Frederica is illegitimate and recently dumped by the man she thought she was going to marry when she runs into Bentley. Although they have known each other for years (both being inhabitants of Terra Carlyle), something new is kindled at this meeting. What I love about this book is that we have cameo appearances by Elliot (from My False Heart), Max’s mother (from No True Gentleman), and Cole Amherst (from A Woman Scorned) – and, of course, George Kemble (from everywhere). When Bentley decides to court his true love, he turns up at Kemble’s shop asking for help dressing for a ball.
At that, Kemble tossed back his head and laughed. “Oh, my God, there’s a woman in this!” he said, rising then lifting his hands as if to conduct a choir. “Well, up! Up! I owe old Max a favor, Cinderella. So let’s see what we’ve got to work with.
Feeling like some great, lumbering ox standing next to Kemble’s svelte figure, Bentley watched as the man swished back and forth, taking inventory. ”My God, you’re tall,“ he muttered. ”Really, what do they feed you Gloucestershire boys? And the cut of that coat – what a nightmare! Have it off and once; Jean-Claude can use it to polish the silver. No, don’t scowl, and give me the waistcoat, too.“
In A Deal with the Devil our hero is Giles, Lord Walrafen, stepson of Cecilia Lorimar from A Woman of Virtue. (Cecilia’s first husband was much older than she was). Giles falls in love with Aubrey Montford, the housekeeper at Castle Cardow, where he is the absentee owner. He calls Max de Rohan and (of course) Kemble to the castle to investigate the murder of Giles’s uncle. Aubrey, unfortunately, is the prime suspect. Max drags poor, long-suffering, Kemble to the north of England (and later Scotland) to investigate Aubrey’s background.
Kem crossed his arms petulantly and kept walking. ”I did not ask for this!“ he reminded Max. ”And all I know is that so far, I’ve been dumped in the back-of-beyond, and dragged through a dozen little villages with disgusting little names like Spitford, Cowpen, Pigpen and Chicken-Shite Crossroads—“
In The Devil to Pay we get plenty of Kemble, s the heroine of this book, Sidonie St. Goddard, is Kemble’s sister. Sidonie is a dark, Robin Hood character, going out in disguise to right the wrongs done by exploitative noblemen. When she sets her sights on Aleric, Marquess of Devellyn, things turn out a little differently than with her previous targets. But even her brother does not know her secret identity until she turns up, dressed as a sailor and wounded.
Five minutes later, they had the erstwhile midshipman laid out in an empty bedchamber. Kemble had quit wondering aloud what manner of harebrained, half-cocked scandal broth his sister had gone and gotten herself involved in...
”Good God, I cannot believe you!“ He ripped buttons from Sidonie’s waistcoat as he tore it open ”Wasn’t sailing around the world whilst hanging off the rigging with a knife in your teeth dangerous enough? You had to go and join the bloody frigging navy?"
I’m going to stop here. Liz Carlyle has published ten subsequent books, four of which include my linchpin, George Kemble. And some of which have connections to some of her earlier characters, but one gets a little dizzy trying to figure it all out.
Truth be told, you absolutely do not need to know about these relationships in order to read and enjoy Liz Carlyle’s books. Every one of them stands on its own and every one of them is beautifully written and introduces us to new, engaging characters. But, if you have been with her from the beginning, it is always fun to run into Max de Rohan solving a mystery or Cole Amherst, the Hunky Vicar, offering solace to someone in need or, best of all, George Kemble, inveterate busy-body, involving himself in everyone else’s life.
Myretta Robens The Republic of Pemberley