Sunday 16 July 2017

#CBR9 Book 66: "Someone to Watch Over Me" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Spoiler warning! This review will contain minor spoilers for the plot of the book. They will be clearly marked, though, so the rest of the review should be ok.

Grant Morgan is one of the most famous and sought after of London's Bow Street Runners. He's made a substantial fortune solving crimes for the wealthy, but is starting to find his life a bit boring. When he's called to the banks of the Thames to identify what appears to be a strangled woman, he is first of all surprised to discover that she is still breathing, and secondly, by her identity. The half-dead woman is Vivien Duvall, London's most desirable courtesan.

Once she wakes up and is examined by a doctor, it becomes clear that she has entirely lost her memory. She doesn't know how notorious she is or who may have tried to kill her. Grant decides to keep her at his house, both to make sure she is adequately protected, but also because he is plotting revenge against Vivien. A few months back, he rejected her sexual advances in public and she proceeded to spread a number of rumours about Grant. Now that she is entirely dependent on him for protection, he sees an opportunity to possibly seduce her and get back at her.

As they investigate which of Vivian's many lovers might have had cause to murder her, he pretends that he was her most recent patron. However, Vivian seems to be absolutely appalled by all the things she discovers about her life and claims to have no wish to return to a life as a courtesan. For all that Grant was angry and resentful towards Vivian in the beginning, the more time he spends with the timid, soft-spoken woman in his care, the more he grows properly attached to her. He doesn't really want revenge anymore, he just wants to protect her.

This is one of Lisa Kleypas' relatively early works, and it does not compare that well to some of her real classics, written later. My main problem with the book is that Grant really isn't that great a guy. Initially, he has absolutely no problem with taking advantage of a woman left in his care, just because he feels slighted by some malicious gossip she spread about him. Vivian has no memory of her former life or her actions, yet he seems to think that because she made her living as a courtesan, one he very pointedly rejected not that long ago, it's now totally fine for him to seduce her, by making her think he's one of her clients and making her feel obligated to him.

From the very beginning of his investigation, it's quite clear to Grant that Vivian appears to more or less have had a personality transplant along with the amnesia following her near-strangulation, drowning and head injury. The Vivian Duvall known in Regency society is self-confident to a fault, effortlessly sexy, quite the exhibitionist and arrogant in the extreme. Her former lovers claim she hated quiet pursuits and reading and was willing to do absolutely anything in bed. The woman in his care is timid, shy, seemingly very innocent and absolutely adores reading. While she doesn't remember anything about her past, she has intimate knowledge about a number of Grant's favourite literary works. She's unfailingly polite to everyone and seems uncomfortable being waited on by servants.

SPOILERS AHEAD! It's almost as if she's a completely different person - and in case you hadn't seen the surprise twist coming - she is! It turns out Vivian has a twin sister from the countryside, who came to London to look for her, and was mistaken for her by the man sent to kill her. When is this mistaken identity discovered? When Grant is in the process of deflowering the inexperienced and sheltered virgin, taking absolutely no care because he believes the woman he's sharing a bed with to be a courtesan with many years of experience behind her. He does not, to my mind, apologise or grovel enough in the aftermath.

There's a fairly heavy undertone of slut shaming throughout this novel. Grant basically hates himself for feeling drawn to the woman he believes to be Vivian, because she's slept with so many men. As soon as he discovers the woman he's attracted to is in fact her virginal sister, who has lived a quiet life in the country, teaching children and taking care of her elderly father, it's perfectly ok, because she's pure and all that is good and she is clearly seen as much more worthy of love and a long-term relationship than a possibly repentant Vivian would be.

END SPOILERS. This is definitely one of the weaker Kleypas historicals I've read. Grant being fairly dislikable all the way through is one factor. I really didn't think he deserved any sort of happy ending, and any changes he went through seemed superficial at best. The heroine is also very passive and mainly defers entirely to the will of the men around her, she seems to have little to no agency of her own. That got boring pretty fast. It was also very obvious to me from about the second scene he appeared in who the attempted murderer was, and surprising to me that super-detective Grant didn't clue in on the fact earlier in the story. To be fair, he was too busy hate-lusting over the woman in his care. Unless you're a Kleypas completist, this one is skippable.

Judging a book by its cover: I am very fond of the colour teal, but there may be an overabundance of it on this cover. This book is set in Regency era England, and I'm pretty sure that whatever the cover model is wearing doesn't count as period appropriate night wear, especially considering what is described as part of the story. I also pity whatever servant is left to iron out the creases in the silk after the skirts have been crumpled so carelessly as we see here.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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