THE LADY AND THE LAWYER
Melissa McCann

 


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Awe-Struck E-Books, 2004
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
 
Romantic Suspense, Regency
 
Carolyn Hedley, a poor relation, has no choice but to live as an unpaid servant for her cousins. Her cousin Nora Pucker, having heard a rumor that their Great Aunt Hepsibah Pucker is near dying or may even be dead, takes Caro from her governess duties and sends her to stay at Puck Hall to find out what is really happening – and make sure Nora and her husband Robert are still Aunt Sibby’s principle heirs.
 
Caro is given a refreshingly warm welcome to the village of High Fielding by the innkeeper Mrs. Bagby. The sweet Mr. Cumberland gives her a ride to Puck Hall and offers her his services as a lawyer, unpaid, if she needs help sorting out Aunt Sibby’s situation. It is immediately obvious that she does, because the reaction to her arrival at Puck Hall is a nasty shock. The housekeeper doesn’t even want to let her into the house. Caro finds that Aunt Sibby has been so neglected by the servants that it looks like the steward Mr. Stapleton and housekeeper Mrs. Follick are trying to kill her.
 
Without the help of the generous, concerned villagers, Caro would not be able to survive the next few days at Puck Hall. The under servants are ordered not to help her or carry messages for her, Mr. Stapleton makes disgusting advances, and the food is suspect. Cousin Robert is too far away to help. More frightening evidence keeps turning up, against the servants and even against Aunt Sibby. Caro finds she doesn’t even know herself.
 
Author Melissa McCann says she got the idea for this plot from the death of a distant relative of her own. The servants are truly horrible, but still believable. The physical degeneration of Aunt Sibby must have been seen to be conceived, her mental state is even worse. I believe McCann did her medical research, but she seems to have felt the small details of historical setting were unimportant to her story. (She wrote it in fifteen days.) “Lawyer” is an American term: in England the word was and still is “solicitor,” a more specialized term. McCann does know the word, because she uses it to describe a legal firm, but throughout the book she usually says “lawyer”. Sad seduction of an author by an alliterative title (I write that with a wink).

[Note: I have received a correction on this from the author. My apologies for doubting her, and I will let her speak in her own words at the bottom of the page.]

My favorite element of THE LADY AND THE LAWYER is Mr. Cumberland. Beaming a delighted smile, threadbare clothes covered with animal hair, he makes Caro and the reader feel better whenever he enters the scene. He is a charming hero-to-the-rescue, in some ways a more realistic partner for a poor heroine than we usually find in Regencies. Mrs. Bagby and the Reverend Hopper also bring freshness wherever they go. Probably my least favorite element is the description of Caro’s life as a poor relation. It follows all the fiction conventions of miserly neglect, hunger, insults, readiness of her relations to believe the worst of her. The details of her finances are identical to the last poor relation novel I read. Fortunately, this only lasts for the first few pages before heading off in an original direction.
 
THE LADY AND THE LAWYER has the distinction of being my first purchase of an ebook. After awarding Melissa McCann’s science fiction SKIN my pick as last year’s Adventure Read of the Year, and reading her extremely funny Regency romance HONORIA, due out next month, I decided to get everything of hers that I could find. Each of the three I have read has been different in tone, setting and purpose from any of the others. THE LADY AND THE LAWYER, a romantic suspense, is the darkest so far.
 
[Melissa McCann: “I did want to note that in fact "lawyer" was a general term (possibly somewhat derogatory) used in the regency period to cover anyone in the practice of law from the barristers and sergeants at law to the attorneys, solicitors and proctors. A solicitor was essentially a tradesman who was paid for his work. A barrister was considered a gentleman whose wife could be presented at court. Technically, Mr. Cumberland was a barrister, making him eligible to marry Caro who was also a member of the gentry. However, since the barrister's role was to argue cases before a judge, and Mr. Cumberland made no court appearances (hated them, actually--rather shy), I felt barrister was an ungainly term that would mean less to the reader than the more general lawyer.”]
 
January 2005 Review
 

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