A Tryst With Trouble
DP/April 1, 2012/$10.74
Dogged for years by painful gossip about his father’s homosexuality, the Marquess of Beningbrough—Ben, to his friends—has protected himself by becoming the ultimate man’s man. Passed over by suitor after suitor in favor of her pretty but vapid younger sister, clever, forthright Lady Barbara Jeffords has reached the disappointing conclusion most men are shallow, boorish clods. When a philandering footman turns up dead, the two square off: he’s sure she’s determined to pin the crime on his hapless young cousin, while she thinks he means to shift the blame to her sister. To find the real killer, Ben and Barbara must declare a truce that threatens to expose both their buried insecurities and their growing desire for each other.
A Tryst With Trouble is Alyssa Everett’s first novel. It’s a lighthearted Regency with a murder mystery plot, told in first person, alternating between the hero, Ben, and the heroine, Barbara. Yes, a murder mystery can be lighthearted…neither murdered character has any lines, so there’s no chance to develop deep empathy for them.
The mystery is not all that much of a mystery to the reader, but because the characters are not actually detectives, attempting to solve it gives them enough difficulty to keep the suspense going. I read for the banter, but there is plenty of tension as well.
The story has a strong secondary plot revolving around Ben’s relationship to his father, both as an obstacle to his relationship with Barbara and as a personal conflict with himself. Feeling that his father was dishonest to marry his mother than be unfaithful to her with men, Ben worries that he will be unable to sustain a marriage. Barbara, meanwhile, has to overcome feelings of inferiority and a lack of trust stemming from her previous failed attempts at romantic relationships. Her struggle is complicated by the fact that her sister, to whom she is not close, is deeply involved in the murder mystery.
I particularly enjoyed the amusing narration the first-person point of view provided. The hero and heroine’s interest in each other is obvious when they first meet. Here are Ben’s thoughts, which are unabashedly lustful:
…[Barbara] was striking. Very striking. She had Titian hair, skin as white and smooth as mother’s milk, and the sort of lush curves that would have guaranteed even the most wall-eyed courtesan a comfortable retirement. My blood warmed just looking at her.
Barbara’s thoughts are a bit more in the romantic line, except she’s clearheaded:
… the most sinfully handsome young man I’d ever seen. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with clear gray eyes in a chiseled face, and his dark hair had been cropped into a Brutus cut that somehow managed to look both short and tousled at the same time…The flawlessness of his features stood in stark contrast, however, to his style of dress, for he was so ruggedly and plainly attired that he might have been about to go shooting in the muddy countryside rather than paying an afternoon call at a fashionable London address.
…[he] called to mind a panther on a cliff top: magnificent, threatening, and accustomed to looking down on everyone, mostly with the intention of making them his lunch.
Naturally, their immediate attraction leads to forming incorrect impressions. Barbara remarks on Ben’s resemblance to his (gay) father, which both leads him to believe she’s taunting him, and then to worry over his response.
I wished I hadn’t told her that afternoon that if I ever married, getting an heir would be the only reason. I’d meant I’d sooner keep a mistress, of course, but now I realized it had sounded as if I had no interest in females at all. And I couldn’t think how to correct that impression, short of announcing out of the blue, By the way, I had a ravishing artist’s model in my keeping until just last month.
Throughout the novel, Ben and Barbara repeatedly misjudge each other, only to find that their growing unspoken affection leads them into voicing their issues. In other words, they talk, sometimes rudely or sarcastically, but eventually ironing out their misunderstandings. And it’s fun to watch them do it.
“…I pity your future wife.”
“You needn’t. I plan to spend as little time in her company as possible.”
“Then I hope she’s fully cognizant of her good fortune.”
…“Are you this impertinent to every man you meet?”
“Are you this rude to every lady you call on?”
“I didn’t come here to call on you.”
“In that case, I do count myself lucky.”
I enjoyed this book, and recommend it if you enjoy upbeat reads with plenty of delicious banter.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen; she has a World War One-set Spice Brief out in May titled “Under Her Uniform.” Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.