To all appearances, Miss Omega Chartley is a schoolteacher on holiday. In fact she is a gentlewoman fallen on hard times, left at the altar eight years earlier and forced to make her own way in the world after the loss of her family fortune.
Omega’s modest tour of England is cut short when she comes to the aid of a runaway. Jamie Clevenden has fled the clutches of a brutal uncle, and Omega is determined to help him escape the law, as represented by Bow Street Runner, Mr. Timothy Platter.
Aided by a kindly war veteran and his adopted daughter, the two fugitives arrive at the home of Jamie’s other uncle, the Viscount of Byford — none other than Miss Chartley’s disgraced fiancé, Matthew Bering. There Miss Chartley will finally learn the secret that Lord Byford has hidden from her all these years, the story of a dark chapter in his past that stands in the way of not only their happiness but that of his nephew. Now they must face the truth together, no matter how dire the consequences.
While I enjoyed Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, and there were certainly elements in it that readers of Carla Kelly’s regency romances will probably recognise, I can’t help thinking that it isn’t one of her best.
The story is a good one. Miss Omega Chartley, having been abandoned at the altar at the age of eighteen has very shortly afterwards to come to terms with the suicide of her father, which leaves her and her brother in straightened circumstances. She obtains a position as a teacher at a girls’ school in Plymouth, where she works for eight years, and is taking a holiday before taking up a new post in Durham.
Along the way, she befriends a young runaway by the name of Jamie who for some reason, seems rather familiar to her. He is running away from his uncle and guardian, Lord Rotherford who beats him regularly and who, we discover later on, will stop at nothing in order to obtain the boy’s considerable fortune.
Jamie is intent on finding his other uncle – his late mother’s brother – Viscount Byford, in the hope that he will rescue him from Rotherford.
Pursued by a Bow Street Runner, and joining forces with a maimed ex-soldier(Hugh Owen) and his half-Spanish charge (Angela), the rag-taggle band eventually makes its way to Byford to confront the viscount and ask for his help.
Viscount Byford turns out to be none other than Matthew Bering, the man who had jilted Omega eight years ago.
Omega has never really stopped loving him, even through her embarrassment and anger at his treatment of her. The question of why he did what he did has haunted her – and when she finally discovers his reasons, they’re not pretty. The rest of the story involves Matthew’s quest to find out what really happened on the eve of his wedding and to secure Jamie’s future.
As is often the case in her books, Ms Kelly doesn’t shy away from dealing with some unpleasant subject matter – the plight of ex-soldiers, the poverty of the lower classes, children orphaned by war, prostitution, greed and murder to name but a few.
There were, however, a few weaknesses that prevented me from giving the book a higher rating. For one thing, while the clues are followed and the loose ends tied up – one of them a twist I didn’t see coming – it all happens incredibly quickly. Then there’s the fact that Matthew left the girl he loved standing at the altar and just disappeared – and did nothing for eight years. I suspect that had Omega and Jamie not stumbled across him, he would likely have continued to do nothing. The point, I suppose, is that Omega’s reappearance in his life and his desire to protect his nephew have spurred him on to find out the truth once and for all, but it’s rather a stretch of credibility to suppose that he would have waited eight years to act. His guilt and shame have driven him to a solitary life, but he also allowed Omega to suffer the censure of being jilted and the agony of not knowing why for eight years without an explanation.
There’s also the issue of Matthew’s difficulties in the bedroom department. I confess, it makes a change to find a hero who isn’t a stud who suffers from a permanent erection when in the vicinity of his lady-love, but for Matthew to be able to go from zero to hero for the first time in eight years simply because he’s with the “right woman” was, I felt, implausible.
Those reservations aside however, this was an enjoyable read, with humour and affection radiating from almost every page. Matthew’s concern for Omega is touching, as is the way he comes to love Jamie and Angela as his own. Given the issues between them, he and Omega are surprisingly comfortable with each other, and the way their relationship re-kindles is charmingly done.