The Reluctant Widow
By: Georgette Heyer
When Elinor Rochdale boards the wrong coach, she ends up not at her prospective employer’s home but at the estate of Eustace Cheviot, a dissipated and ruined young man on the verge of death.
His cousin, Mr Ned Carlyon, persuades Elinor to marry Eustace as a simple business arrangement. By morning, Elinor is a rich widow, but finds herself embroiled with an international spy ring, housebreakers, uninvited guests, and murder. And Mr Carlyon won’t let her leave…
Heyer is always a wonderful writer to turn to when you’re unsure of what to read next and you need something light xD This book was particularly fun to read (especially given a description like that!), I just couldn’t put it down! Contains some spoilers!
Unlike many of her other novels that I’ve read (except maybe Lady of Quality (my review can be found here)), The Reluctant Widow does not focus so much on the romance (although there is one) but rather on the mystery and other aspects of the novel, mainly the problems that Eustace Cheviot left behind. I like that there was some international intrigue involved because I hadn’t quite seen anything like it in her other books; her other books that I’ve read have been pretty self-contained to English society and whatever circles they ran. Here, the Napoleonic War takes more preeminence than usual, and the other roles of the landed gentry and upper classes are revealed here. The way that the mystery worked out was also interesting, though the final resolution was a bit of a letdown (though completely in keeping with the way that Society worked at the time) because I expected maybe a bit of a throttle before the final resolution. It did not, however, keep me from fully enjoying the novel though.
I didn’t find the novel to be too Gothic in a sense that Highnoons, the home of Eustace Cheviot, did have its odd nooks with mysterious and dangerous people emerging from them. It did add to the fun and established some of the characters in the process, in particular Elinor’s friendship to Ned’s younger brother, Nicholas. It also brought other secondary charactes in, such as the Barrows, the country doctor and later Elinor’s old governess, Becky.
It’s quite amusing (despite of the many problems that he does leave behind) because at the heart of it all is Elinor Rochdale, a very sensible and independent woman who is pretty much thrown into the entire fiasco after boarding the wrong coach to the wrong place. She manages to weather through all of the intrigue and further complications (including the marriage that she was not searching for) with a steady demeanor, if not with plenty of words to Mr. Edward Carlyon, the man who persuaded her to follow through with his plans. Carlyon is an interesting character as well: he’s clever and always calm and cool despite of the fact that his brother gets shot, there’s a French spy roaming around the countryside and the fact taht the Cheviots pretty much hate him. It made sense that he was not around as prominently as his younger brother Nicky because he is very clever and pretty much figured out everything by the remaining few chapters of the novel. The development of their relationship remained in the background but the build-up was there and rather sweet.
As always, Heyer does a fine job at introducing such an interesting family dynamic found in the Carlyons, especially when Ned, Nicky and middle brother John (also cool-tempered and reasonable, if not the complete opposite of Nicky, who is young and wild). One of the sisters, Georgie, also makes an appearance, but is kept brief, which was sad because she introduced another dynamic to the sibling relationship. You hear about Augusta’s fiery-ness as well in passing but sadly you don’t hear much from the other sister or see Harry (who apparently is a bit of a troublestarter as well). Elinor’s interactions with all of them are amusing and it’s fascinating to see how quickly she eases into these relationships with them. Her interactions with Nicky’s dog Bouncer is hilarious as well—the dog can be a bit of a troublestarter too but he’s always spot on!
I should also not that Eustace’s relations were also amusing in their own way. Bedlington was intriguing in his self-importance. Eustace’s brother Francis was especially amusing because he was such a dandy, always complaining about something that kept his physical health low or how any sign of distress would lead to physical ailments of all sorts. From the moment he appeared, depending that his butler produce a travel mirror to make sure that he didn’t get any dust on himself, I knew he was going to be something else all together. He also appeared to be easily affected emotionally, which just adds to the laughs. But at the same time, there’s this other aspect to him (I won’t mention any more about it, you’ll have to read it for yourself!) that was surprising and added another layer to the overall character.
Overall, The Reluctant Widow was another fantastic read by Georgette Heyer. If you’re into historical fiction or Georgette Heyer’s works with less romance and more mystery, than this is definitely a novel to check out!