From the desk of Pam Mingle:
If you like your historical romance full of excitement, mystery, and intrigue, you’ve come to the right place. The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray, the first entry in Anna Bradley’s new series, The Swooning Virgins Society, features all three.
Tristan Stratford, Lord Gray, is bored with his new life as an earl. Formerly a Bow Street Runner, he never wished to live the aristocratic life. The death of his elder brother forced him into the role, and now his mother has plans for him. She wants him to take up the mantle of a peer and marry Lady Esther, a near neighbor in Oxfordshire.
One night in London, Tristan is gazing out the window of his study and sees the slight figure of a boy lying on the roof of Lord Everly’s pediment. So still is he, Tristan begins to believe the boy is dead. Finally, someone exits the front door, and the lad shimmies down a column and follows. Overcome with curiosity, Tristan does likewise.
Tristan isn’t following a boy, however, but a young woman named Sophia Monmouth. She’s trailing her quarry, one Peter Sharpe, who she suspects is guilty of a crime. There is a quick confrontation between Tristan and the “lad.” She bites and kicks him, but he doesn’t let go. Eventually Tristan knocks her hat off. He’s shocked to discover the woman beneath it. Quite a lovely one, with olive skin and enchanting green eyes. She’s “resoundingly feminine.”
Several weeks ago, his close friend, Henry Gerrard, also a Runner, was murdered at this same spot during a botched robbery. A young man has been taken up for the crime. Tristan is now convinced Sophia is part of a band of thieves who killed his friend and threatens to turn her in to the magistrate. But before he can question her, she slips away.
Sophia gloats over her escape, but takes a moment to consider her pursuer. He looks like a painting, with cool gray eyes now filled with fury. She hurries toward her home, at The Clifford School. To her surprise, Tristan confronts her there, telling her he knows she was following Peter Sharpe. After Lady Clifford’s hulk of a guard warns him off, Tristan leaves.
As a child, the orphaned Sophia was rescued by Lady Clifford. Long a thorn in the side of Bow Street, the Clifford School residents seek justice for the poor and downtrodden, those whom society has left behind. We learn that a young man who lives at the Clifford School, Jeremy Ives, has been arrested for the murder of Tristan’s friend Gerrard. Jeremy is dearly loved by Sophia. He is, in the vernacular of the time, “simple.” Sophia knows Jeremy couldn’t possibly have been involved in a robbery, nor could he have killed anyone. Sophia had been following Peter Sharpe because she believes he, not Jeremy, is the real murderer.
Both Sophia and Tristan attend Jeremy’s trial at the Old Bailey. He is convicted easily after testimony from Sharpe, corroborated by the head of the Bow Street Runners. Afterward, Tristan and Sophia have a talk. She points out the many oddities in the case against Jeremy, but Tristan remains skeptical. Eventually, he admits there’s something not right about the case.
Sophia can’t deny her attraction to Tristan, though it’s a most inconvenient time for her to become infatuated. For his part, Tristan is smitten. “There seemed to be a dozen different versions of her…each one an echo of another.” When he looks into her “…fierce green eyes…” he knows she’s telling the truth.
Sophia and Tristan visit Jeremy in Newgate Prison and find him emaciated, bruised, and scared. After listening to his story about the night of the murder, Tristan can no longer sustain his belief in Jeremy’s guilt. Back in the carriage, Tristan says, “I believe you, Miss Monmouth.”
The love story in The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray is entwined with a complex mystery and features well-defined, yet nuanced, characters. Sophia believes she can never be the girl with the happily-ever-after. Tristan believes his duty is to go to Oxfordshire and meet his mother’s expectations. Sophia and Tristan also view justice differently. He trusts the “system.” Sophia knows the traditional avenues for justice serve only the upper echelons of society. As they fall in love, both the slow evolution of their beliefs and their growing passion for each other are mesmerizing.
There are moments in the book that make it challenging to suspend one’s disbelief. For example, Sophia recovers from an attack in which she sustains serious injuries way too quickly. And would the villains be dumb enough to return time after time to commit their crimes in the same location?
The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray is an incandescent love story which also features suspense, excitement, and intrigue. It makes for an exhilarating and satisfying read.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
- The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray (The Swooning Virgins Society), by Anna Bradley
- Lyrical Press (October 27, 2020)
- Trade paperback, eBook (251) pages
- ISBN: 978-1516110414
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Cover image courtesy of Lyrical Press © 2020; text Pamela Mingle © 2020, Austenprose.com