Reviewed by Lorraine.
What a Rake Wants – Maggi Andersen
1820. Visiting his impoverished family estates in Ireland, Kieran Flynn, 4th Viscount Montsimon, receives word that his services are required in London. He is a diplomat, investigator, and spy for the King, and these are delicate times, with the coronation coming up, and the war between George and his estranged queen, Catherine, coming to a head. He is given a mission, but not an explanation.
A year after her unpleasant and unfaithful husband was killed in a duel, Althea Brookwood lives in a rented house in Mayfair during the Season. She has vowed never to marry again, but her Aunt Catherine has other ideas, and suggests that Flynn would be the ideal match. He is a rake, but there is no serious scandal attached to him. Althea is adamant that one unhappy marriage is enough. After Christmas spent with her aunt, she retires to Owltree Cottage, the only property left to her, in search of peace. There she is accosted by Sir Horace Crowthorne, owner of the surrounding land, who demands that she sell to him, as her husband had promised to do, ostensibly so that he can build a road there. He offers to let her stay if she becomes his mistress.
Determined to fight for what is hers, she consults her solicitor, who informs her that such is Sir Horace’s power, he could make a successful, if dishonest, claim upon her estate, which would leave her with nothing. She had better sell to him.
Instead, she seeks help from Lord Churlston, the best of her late husband’s friends, but he is murdered soon after their meeting. Sensing danger, Flynn advises her to leave London, but she approaches another of Brookwood’s old friends, Sir Percy Woodruff. In collusion with Crowthorne he tries to trap her, but she escapes through a window and climbs down a tree. Flynn rescues her.
He tells her that Crowthorne and his cronies believe that she has something of Brookwood’s that they desperately want to find, though no-one else knows what it is. In order to protect her against her will, Flynn abducts her and takes her with him to Canterbury, where he is spying on some of Crowthorne’s friends. When they return to London, they find her house has been ransacked. She recalls that Brookwood’s London house was also broken into immediately after his death.
Althea goes to stay with her Aunt Catherine, who now advises against choosing the impoverished Flynn as a husband; but she realises that she needs his help. He drives her to Owltree Cottage, where a trap is set to induce Crowthorne’s men to break in once more. Althea leaves with the housekeeper for London, but the coach is stopped and she is abducted on Crowthorne’s orders.
After her rescue, she decides that she will return to her old life, and that Flynn can offer her nothing.
His time is taken up in pursuit of Crowthorne, but it is Althea who works out where the mysterious missing object has been hidden. Its recovery, and the implications for the Crown, mean that the whole affair is to be kept secret, and Flynn is to be given a reward that he does not want.
With Crowthorne still on the loose, Althea goes to Ireland to stay at Flynn’s home for safety’s sake. Hearing that Crowthorne has taken ship from Liverpool, and fearing for Althea’s life, Flynn enlists the help of two old friends and goes after him.
This is a convoluted tale of people chasing people hunting for unspecified objects, and partial information being supplied to those who need it most. Spies, villains, murderers, and royal secrets put at risk all tangle together to make a likeable story.
The title is misleading; Flynn is rather an accomplished flirt than a rake, and behaves like a gentleman throughout.
Owltree appears as both Cottage and Manor. The King’s residence is Carleton and Carlton House. Crowthorne is Sir Horace and Sir Henry.
Various plot devices are well-flagged in advance, and there is homage to Heyer in the shape of Flynn’s dog; but this is an entertaining novel, spoiled only by the very late introduction of characters from previous novels. This works better if the reader is familiar with them; otherwise they are an awkward and unnecessary intrusion, serving solely as a reminder that this is the third of the Spies of Mayfair series.
Point of sale Amazon