Narrated by Marian Hussey
Note: there are 2 titles in this audiobook/review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger and The Rise and Fall of Reginald Everheart
The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (which I’m henceforth going to refer to as LTGLDS) is book two in Victoria Alexander’s current Lady Travelers Society series, and the audiobook edition also includes the preceding novella, which is a nice bonus for listeners – who are getting one-and-a-half books for the price of one! As the events of the novella don’t relate to those of the book, it can be listened to completely independently, and I’ll touch upon it briefly at the end of this review.
In LTGLDS, we meet the widowed Lady Wilhemina Bascombe, whose husband, George, died a couple of years earlier and left her in straitened financial circumstances. Willie and George had married against the wishes of her parents, but they were happy, enjoying a carefree, somewhat extravagant lifestyle and ran with a fast set. When George died, Willie was left with debts and a less-than-pristine reputation for being daring and reckless; and although she has just about scraped together enough money to pay off his creditors, once they’re paid she will have very little left. Her one remaining hope is to liquidate her one remaining asset – a painting by the Renaissance artist, Portinari – which was given to her by her grandmother. The problem is that George used it as collateral for a loan from an art collector – an Italian count – and while Willie has just about enough money left to repay the loan, she doesn’t have enough to be able to buy passage to Venice in order to meet with the Conte di Sarifini.
Fortunately, however, her godmother is a founder member of the Lady Travelers Society (which is surely a proper noun, and should therefore be spelled in the English way, as Travellers), and she arranges for Willie to be assigned as a tour guide for a party of American ladies and their daughters who are intending to depart for the continent very shortly. Their original hostess has cried off, and the tour would have been disbanded – but the participation of a titled English Lady is a big attraction for the Americans, and the tour is quickly back on.
Mr. Dante Montague is handsome, rich, intelligent… and perhaps just a tad stuffy. An expert on art and antiquities, he devotes most of his time to the management of the museum which is his grandfather’s legacy. But the museum is small and there’s the possibility it may have to close if Dante cannot secure a big enough exhibit to garner public attention and draw the crowds. Two of the paintings displayed in the museum are part of a tryptich by the (fictional) Italian Renaissance artist, Portinari, depicting the story of Orpheus and Euridyce, but the middle canvas is missing, given years ago to Willie’s grandmother. Dante knows the painting was sold by George Bascombe and is determined to retrieve it before his widow does. When Dante learns that Willie is about to set out for Venice with a group of American travellers, he urges his sister, Rosalind, to join the party along with her daughter, Harriet. Rosalind agrees – mostly because she wants to get Harriet away from the unsuitable young man who is set on courting her – and off they go.
Dante’s plan is to befriend Willie – a plan which Rosalind quite sensibly points out is a bad one– although before very long, he finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to her, and abandoning any thoughts of mere friendship. Willie enjoys Dante’s company; he’s kind, honourable and responsible, all the things George wasn’t, and Willie can’t help herself falling for him. Before long, the two of them have fallen in love, but of course Dante’s secret – although he has long abandoned his plan of using Willie to get to the painting – still lies between them, and once it comes out, both Willie and Dante have to decide what they want more – financial independence (her), the museum (him)… or each other.
LTGLDS is a well-written, light-hearted story featuring two engaging protagonists and a likeable, nicely-drawn secondary cast. One of the author’s real strengths is her ability to write naturalistic, witty dialogue, and this book is no exception, as Willie and Dante banter and flirt their way through the first part of the story in a delightful manner. And as in the first book in the series (The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen), Ms. Alexander paints a wonderfully vivid picture of the sights and sounds of the places visited by our travellers, from the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame to the frescoed churches of Verona and the waterways and palaces of Venice. I have a caveat though, which is that these descriptions, while accurate and evocative, tend to put the brakes on in terms of the story progression, and I found myself wishing things would move a little more quickly on more than one occasion. In fact, the story is somewhat drawn out overall; it’s a simple plotline when it comes down to it, and it seemed to me there was fair bit of padding, which has brought my content grade down somewhat.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the listen, because I did. It just wasn’t one of those audiobooks that compelled me to pick it up at every available opportunity.
I enjoyed The Rise and Fall of Reginald Everhart as well, possibly moreso given that the shorter length meant the author focused firmly on the romance she was creating between Dulcie Middleworth, an illustrator who catalogues the artefacts belonging to the Explorer’s Club, and Michael Shepard, a young man who is frequently in the club’s library doing research for the expedition he is going on in a month. The pair is rather adorably tongue tied around each other at first, until the Lady Travelers decide to intervene and attempt to throw Dulcie and Michael together. It’s a sweet, gently humorous story featuring a likeable central couple who face an interesting dilemma.
I’ve listened to Marian Hussey on a number of occasions and have always found her narrations to be accomplished and enjoyable, even when I’ve wished she had material of a better quality to work with. Fortunately, LTGLDS is good quality material, and it affords Ms. Hussey the opportunity to shine. In a story featuring eight or nine female characters, she is able to differentiate effectively between each of them, so that no two sound the same; there are quite a few scenes in which several (or all) of them speak, and I never had any trouble distinguishing between them. To my English ears, Ms. Hussey’s American accent is more than decent in that it sounds fairly natural and unaffected (unlike some others I’ve heard recently); and she does a good job later on in the story with the Italian accents of the Conte and Contessa di Sarafini, which are nicely judged. Her portrayal of Dante is especially good and paints him as an attractive if somewhat overly serious young man. She lowers the pitch of her voice a little and injects an element of deliberation into his speech, which fits with his being (supposedly) a little overly proper, while in the more romantic moments the deeper tone turns a little sultry, which works really well.
Ms. Hussey’s performance in the novella is every bit as good as in the full-length novel; her pacing, characterisation and differentiations are all excellent, making it a pleasure to listen to. One thing I was pleased to note is that the vocal “tick” I’d noted in some of her other performances – of almost adding an extra syllable to the ends of some words – has been eradicated, which made for a much smoother, more enjoyable listen overall.
While LTGLDS/Everheart didn’t wow me, these tales are nonetheless enjoyable and well-narrated, and could definitely fit the bill if you’re in the mood for something light-hearted, gently humorous and low on angst.
TITLE: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger
AUTHOR: Victoria Alexander
NARRATED BY: Marian Hussey
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: 5
REVIEWER: CazBuy The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria Alexander on Amazon EXCERPT: