Blame It On Bath
by Caroline Linden, historical (2012)
Avon, $2.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202533-3
Blame It On Bath takes place within the same time frame as One Night In London. It can stand alone pretty well, however, provided that you can bring yourself to wade through the exposition-heavy first dozen or so pages.
Just a quick recap: the late Duke of Durham told his second and youngest sons Edward and Gerard de Lacey before he died that he was married to another woman before he married their mother, and that marriage had never been dissolved. The Duke was being blackmailed in his final days, and he couldn't discover the identity of the blackmailer when he croaked. It is now left to Edward and Gerard to clean up the mess that their dear departed father left them in. Edward set out to see what he could do to contain the mess in London while trying to figure out things, and his story can be read in One Night In London. Gerard decides to head to Bath, where the blackmail letters came from, to track down the sender of these letters. This is his story. As for the eldest son, Charlie, he is the drunk one with the permanent cynical sneer on his lips, and because we romance readers swoon at the mere whiff of brandy coming from these men's mouths, his book is coming up next as the grand finale of this series.
Back to Gerard, as he is about to head over to Bath, he comes across our heroine Katherine Howe. Katherine's father was in trade who married up, and Katherine was practically sold off in marriage to a man about twenty years her senior to improve the family pedigree. Katherine's late father was a wily one, however, and the Howe family fortune was tied up in such a way that when Katherine became a widow, her late husband's heir found himself in debt to Katherine, thanks to her late husband's loan from her father that the man couldn't pay up in time. That man's solution is to marry Katherine, even if he has to browbeat her into agreeing to it. Katherine has been half in love with Gerard since she was twelve or something, so she decides to take a mad gamble and secretly meets Gerard to tell him that she will be more than happy to marry him. Since she has £100,000 to her name and he stands to be completely ruined should the courts decide that the three de Lacey brothers are illegitimate sons of the late Duke, it's a win-win situation for the two of them.
I know, the plot seems pretty convoluted on paper, but the truth is, the story is actually a very slow-paced tale where the blackmail plan simmers so quietly in the background for so long that it may as well be nothing more than a filler subplot. The focus of this story is more on Gerard and Katherine overcoming their insecurities about each other. Katherine is supposed to be plain-looking, but all it takes is a hot red dress for her mojo to be switched on. Apparently her selfish and self-absorbed mother made her wear drab dresses so that she will never outshine Mommy Dearest, you see. Katherine is a sweet and romantic young lady, hoping for the best in her marriage of convenience to Gerard, but her insecurities about her looks cause her to be an even bigger green-eyed monster than the Incredible Hulk. Seriously, she gets all worked up if Gerard should even glance at another woman for a few seconds!
As for Gerard, in many ways he is the perfect gallant gentleman, caring for her and taking her side when no one else would. But at the same time, he is also a thoughtless fool who does a lot of stupid things here, due to his own insecurities as well as his taking the wife's affections for granted, and there is a part of me that really wants to see Katherine ditch him by the last page. Flirting with another woman, openly, to get information about the blackmailer, while refusing to tell the wife anything, and then - my favorite - leaving the wife after an unhappy argument, not writing for days, and then coming back to feel annoyed when he discovers that the wife has decamped! What a stupid man. He's lucky that Katherine, like so many romance heroines, is programmed from birth to forgive so easily.
It's not that I don't enjoy reading their story. I do. The main characters have realistic flaws that I can understand, and even if don't always agree with their actions, I can understand what drives them to do what they do. Before all that silly refusal to communicate and jumping to wrong conclusions plunge the later half of this story into a muddle, Gerard and Katherine have a tender and sweet yet poignant relationship, where they slowly discover more about each other slowly but surely. Katherine learns to be more confident and assertive. The title of this book, in fact, comes from a scene where she tells her stunned mother to blame Bath for giving her the assertiveness to tell her mother to go fly a kite. It's fun to see a heroine slowly come to her own, and Ms Linden does this aspect of the story very well.
Unfortunately, the second half of this book is full of dreary mystery and mundane little relationship spats that I have a hard time staying focused on the story. There is always something else that is more interesting than this story, after all. The mystery is dull because it's just the hero chasing after a dry trail of clues without any excitement to liven up things. The conflicts in the relationship stem from the hero being plagued by an inability to talk that, in turn, causes him to behave pretty callously towards the wife, while Katherine starts acting like the most insecure and jealous woman in Bath. By the time I reach the last page, I can barely remember why I quite liked the first half of the book.
Blame In On Bath starts out slow, becomes better soon towards the halfway point, and then somehow becomes too mundane for its own good.
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