Guest review by Jane Greensmith of Reading, Writing, Working, Playing
The Reluctant Widow, first published in 1946, was Heyer’s 32nd novel and her 17th Regency. It was my first Heyer, and it hooked me completely. I confess that I sometimes find it hard to differentiate one Heyer story from the next. The headstrong heiresses and their plights tend to merge in my mind over time, but the heroine of The Reluctant Widow is different. She’s still plucky and headstrong, but Elinor Rochdale has an appeal that transcends the other Heyer girls. Maybe it’s the fact that she is a working girl, albeit one with pedigree; maybe it’s her inherent honesty. You get the feeling that she simply couldn’t lie, however much she wanted to. Unlike so many other Heyer heroines, Elinor is not a schemer. She doesn’t have an agenda, other than to live decently and without a lot of fuss. She’s not out to hoodwink, bedevil, dazzle, or charm anyone, and this makes her so very appealing as a heroine.
Plus the story is first rate. The plot is awfully convoluted, but the upside is that this means you can read it a few times and it still feels fresh. To begin with the beginning, we first meet Elinor when she is on her way to a new governess post—her aristocratic father died after losing all his money and she is determined not to live off her relatives. She accidently gets into the wrong carriage when the coach drops her off at her stop, and she ends up being talked into marrying an absolute scumbag of a man, who is dying and must marry so that he can leave his estate to a wife instead of the cousin he abhors. Turns out the cousin is a hero of the first order, Lord Carlyon, but Elinor finds him “odious,” which is actually Heyerian code for “simply irresistible.”
The mystery of the novel involves Elinor, Carlyon, and his flighty, tonnish brother Nicky figuring out what the heck is going on in the ramshackle house, Highnoons, which Elinor inherited when her husband died but a few hours after marrying her. Catherine Morland types will be delighted to know that the house comes complete with hidden staircases, secret entrances, and other wonderfully “horrid” attributes. Continue reading