Friday, January 21, 2011

The Practice of Deception: The Countess by Lynsay Sands

"If you continue to look at me like that I may be tempted to kiss you," he said in a husky voice. Christina's eyes widened and for a moment she almost wished he would, but then she recalled that this was her husband and abruptly turned her head away with a little "Oh dear."
"What is it?" Dicky asked with a small frown.
"I believe that drink you gave me may have affected my good sense," she muttered, thinking it the only excuse for how she could find this man attractive after having suffered under being his wife for a year. Besides, she was beginning to feel a little off balance, her thoughts a little slow and confused. Of course, she was suddenly finding it overly hot and a touch airless in the room but suspected it was from being in Dicky's arms. At the moment, they were as close as lovers, his body brushing against hers with each dance step, his one hand at her back, his arm encircling her, his other hand clasping her suddenly sweaty one . . . and his smell just kept wafting up her nose, sliding through her body, making her want to lean into him. The drink was definitely affecting her, she decided grimly.
O what tangled webs we weave
When first we practice to deceive . . .
Lies, lies, lies . . . deception is at the core of this new Lyndsay Sands novel that tells the story of a kind and caring young woman who agreed to marry Richard Fairgrave, the Earl of Radnor in order to save her family estates and the wounded reputation of her father, a man who had never lived the life of a London rogue. Believing Dicky to truly love her, Christiana entered into her marriage in good faith, only to have her husband undergo an almost immediate transformation into an uncaring, cruel, judgmental, critical and abusive husband, as soon as the wedding vows were said. As the story progresses there is little doubt that Lady Radnor was deceived. Now he is dead and Christiana and her two sisters are trying to find a way to once again dig their father out of a massive gambling debt. Imagine their shock when the sisters are presented with the very real, flesh and blood Earl of Radnor at a ball--a ball they attended in order to find a husband for Christiana's sister and being held the same evening after the sisters found Dicky dead in his study.
This is a romance novel that a most appealing comic flavor to it in spite of the fact that the basic plot of the story is quite serious. What does one do when one finds one's husband dead only a short time after enduring a painful breakfast encounter? How does one react when one's husband--his dead body was lying in his bed--walks up to the supposed widow and requests a dance? Is she married or not? What does one do to sort out all this? Was the marriage to Dicky consummated? The various discussions about any and all of these situations is often hilarious as the Christiana and her sisters along with the earl and his friends try to find a way out of this mess.
As always, Lynsay Sands tells an engaging tale that is historically authentic, populated by characters that are certainly people of their times and whose humanity shines through all the social layers of do and don't that controlled the lives of English aristocrats. One cannot help but be drawn into the deep distress of the countess who has spent the first year of her marriage being systematically worn down psychologically by a man whose evil knows no bounds. At the same time there is the clear contrast between the man claiming to be the earl and the genuine article--the true earl whose life was almost snuffed out by his younger brother and who has only now returned from America to once again take up his life. Yet there is someone who knows about Dicky's death and Richard's return, who is now threatening the safety and reputation of the countess and who is demanding blackmail payment. It is a story that brings to the fore the issue of spousal abuse that produces no external bruises but which slowly destroys the joy of living and the sense of personhood. It also brings to light that spousal abuse was not then any more of a welcome topic for society's consideration than it has been in contemporary times. Yet there is a sense of justice in this story and there is a sense that through the efforts of good and caring people the hurts of evil individuals can be overcome.
This is the first in a new series and is very readable, a fascinating story, strong characters, good plot, very good story development, and a writing style that keeps the reader's interest from the first page. Ms Sands has a fine literary portfolio to her credit and has written some fine historical novels in the past. This novel bears her unmistakable stamp and most assuredly will please readers who have welcomed her past work. For fans of historical romance fiction, this novel will please, and it is a worthy example of Ms Sands' writing talent and skills. I give this novel 4.25 out of 5.
This novel will be released by Harper Collins in February, 2011.

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