A gentleman by day…
Phineas Betcham, Viscount Fenhurst is one of the country’s most eligible bachelors… which—to the heartbreak of each season’s new debutantes—is the way he intends to keep it. Because the broodingly handsome Viscount has vowed to keep emotions out of the bedchamber. And he is a man who always stays true to his word.
So when Penelope Rosebery arrives at his home, impoverished and in need of help, Phin is every inch the gentleman. But, beneath the surface, Penelope stirs a protective and passionate instinct within him. With her untamed beauty and lack of social ties, she’s something of a wildflower—delicate, spontaneous, and rare. And before long, Phineas finds himself tempted to abandon his rulebook… and leave etiquette behind until daybreak.
The title of this book bears almost no relation to the content. For one thing, the hero isn’t a rake, and for another he doesn’t suddenly turn into one at midnight and go about debauching innocent maidens. Also – in the cover shot, the heroine looks like she’s wearing a curtain.
I found The Midnight Rake rather hard going at first. Not because it’s difficult to read, but because I spent so much time shaking my head at the author’s tortuous sentence structure and instances of incorrect word usage that my progress was quite slow!
Once I’d given up expecting the book to be written in a version of the English language that didn’t read like it had been written by a teenager trying to impress someone by using big words without the aid of a dictionary, I started to read it at a normal rate and to concentrate on the story.
Which is, unfortunately, about as well-formed as the sentence structure.
The book opens with two sisters, left stranded by a carriage mishap, being rescued by a rather grand lady who insists on taking them home with her. The Countess of Fenhurst explains that it’s no imposition – her daughter, Julia, is currently away from home, and the countess will be quite happy to have some substitutes to spoil for a while.
Her son, Phineas, Viscount Fenhurst (and yes, if she’s the Countess of Fenhurst, then he should be Viscount SomewhereElse, given that the heir’s courtesy title is not usually the same as his father’s) is also in residence in London and is not pleased by the fact that his mother has descended upon him, as he will now have to suffer her repeated hints and outright suggestions that it’s time he got married and gave her some grandchildren.
But Phin’s mantra is “no wife, happy life”, so it seems that her ladyship is destined for disappointment.
We learn early on that Penelope Rosebury (early twenties) and her sister Aubry (sweet sixteen) are travelling to London to find the bounder who not only jilted Penny at the altar, but also robbed them blind, stealing everything – including their mother’s jewellery – and thus hastened their frail father’s death. Phin and Penny literally bump into each other at the end of chapter one and from then on, the mental lusting is in full swing.
Penny has already mentioned to Lady F. that she has come to London in search of someone, and that she’s sure she’ll be able to locate him if Lady F. would be kind enough to introduce her into society and take her to some society events. She also confesses to Phin that she’s looking for someone and he offers to help – but she won’t give him a name or physical description, or even tell him precisely why finding him is so vital to her very existence – which renders his offer completely useless right off the bat.
There are the bare bones of a decent story in here, but there is too much contrivance and anachronistic behaviour to make it an even half-way decent book. To begin with, Penelope drags her younger sister on a long journey on the slight off-chance that they’ll be able to gain an entrée into good society to track down the man who cheated them. Fortunately for them both, not only does Lady Fenhurst pick up two complete strangers from the side of the road, she takes them into her home indefinitely, feeds them, clothes them, arranges tuition for Aubry and takes Penelope about in society. What luck! Penelope is looking for someone but she refuses to tell anyone with more than a snowball’s chance in hell of helping her what his name is or what he looks like. (Had she done so, of course, there would have been no book!) And on top of that, when she finds him, what does she think is going to happen? She’ll give him a good scold and he’ll say sorry, beg her forgiveness and give all the money back?
Then there’s the fact that Phin is another in a long line of historical romance heroes who is determined not to get married, when in reality, men in his position had it drummed into them from the cradle that if they did nothing else in life, they had to procreate in order to secure lands and title for future generations. Admittedly, the genre is littered with such confirmed bachelors, and some have better reasons than others for their stance. But Phin’s is never fully explained; we learn he’d once been in love with a woman who seemed determined to wipe her kid half-boots on him and who made some sort of public scene which caused him deep embarrassment. Huh? That’s it? As for the anachronisms…Phin and Penny travel alone together in a closed carriage. Men who know each other hardly at all greet each other with handshakes. Phin takes off his waistcoat and hands it to a servant in the foyer of his home, when it wasn’t the done thing for a gentleman to appear without a coat, let alone in just his shirt! Phin kisses Penny in a public park in full view of anyone who passes by. Those are just the ones I can remember without having to look them up.
And then there’s the writing. 60% of the time it’s okay, but the rest of it is peppered with sentences like this:
“His mother wished for grandchildren, despite he was not reticent in his announcement he’d no wish to settle down.”
”Although his mind twitched with the question of why he liked the sound of his name in her voice.”
And this one is a doozy: ”… attending social events as a favour to Penelope will also lend me to abide your wishes.” Um. What did he just say?
And it’s filled with words which, while they might make technical sense, are not idiomatic or with words that are incorrectly used. For instance, the heroine thinks Phin the picture of “effortless eloquence” (which should surely be elegance?) His mother says she is “consorting to arrange a match for Phineas.” At one point, ”With brief execution, [Phin] contemplated the scenarios that might ensue.” He tells his mother (who is nagging him about marriage) that he’s only thirty-one and ”not at the end of his rope”. He does not ”intend to sound braggadocio”. I could go on, but I’ll spare you that.
The author could also have done with a “dictionary of commonly used terms in Historical Romance”. Had one been available, she’d have realised that a “domino” is not a mask, it’s a cloak, and that a “Tiger” is the lad who rides behind the carriage, not the person at the reins.
The Midnight Rake is obviously not a book I can recommend. The story is poorly thought-out and overly contrived, the villain only wants a cape and twirly moustache, the heroine makes too many poor decisions, there’s no sense of time and place, and the central relationship is sorely under-developed. The best things about the book are the hero – Phin is a lovely guy, despite his ridiculous mantra – and Lady Fenhurst’s pet parrot.