Miss Elinor Rochdale is, at 26, for all intents and purposes, ‘on the shelf’.
Elinor’s father has died, leaving her penniless from his gambling debts. With no other option left to her, Elinor applies (and secures) for a position as governess. On her way now to her new place of employment, the reader finds the first twist in this entertaining read as Elinor is hustled into a carraige meant for someone else.
This mix-up of identity results in Elinor, instead of being installed in her new position as governess, in the unenviable position as newlywed to a young profligate whose faults include other vices even worse than simply losing money at the races or betting in a ‘gentlemen’s card game. However,
“How often has one been forced to observe that the most tragic events are for the best!”
Such is the ‘spin’ that Becky, (otherwise known as ‘Miss Beccles’) Elinor’s childhood governess and lady companion, puts on Elinor’s recent marriage to Eustace Cheviot, a drunkard, gambler, and reprobate. Luckily for Elinor though (and this novel is full of both lucky and unlucky circumstances), Eustace Cheviot has met with a sad accident on the day of the marriage. He conveniently passes away, leaving her with a huge dilapidated estate along with several debts to be settled.
A simple plot? not really. When you add intrigue, international spies, a hidden staircase and a missing document, you have all of the ingredients of a historical suspense/mystery/romance, one that continually keeps the reader guessing.
I usually enjoy the characters in Heyer’s novels and this one was no different; however for some reason I could not warm to Elinor in this one. It seemed to me that all she did was complain of her lot. It is true that she had many unexpected surprises in store for her (some very unpleasant indeed) and her reactions are often natural ones. Yet for someone who was in such dire straits as she, it could not have been anything but a relief to her to have been ‘saved’ in her need of a livelihood. However the humor of each situation that arises, along with the author’s masterful dialog, is well done and creative.
Perhaps the loose ends were all too neatly and quickly tied up in the final chapter, but “The Reluctant Widow” certainly rates as one of my favorites. It is certainly easy to see why Heyer’s novels are so addictive and popular.
A fun and fast read for those who love Heyer’s sparkling prose or fiction set in the Regency era.