What would it be like to write a review straight from my memory of the text, with no way to quickly check the facts, to link to other reviews, to the book itself? No passages quoted, no proof reading? Wait, don’t tell me. That is what Goodreads is for.
The spinster of the title is an orphan who has lived with her uncle and aunt in a dark gloomy estate about seventy miles north of London for a decade. She is now in her late twenties and firmly on the shelf. She probably never had much of a chance on the marriage mart anyway, due to the fact that her cheap uncle never gave her a season, coupled with her six foot tall, “giantess” frame. The set up is Gothic, but not too much.
Mattie’s foster family has blocked up most of the windows, lights fires too small for the fireplace, disapproves of things like books and bonnet ribbons, and enforces two dreadful nightly rituals: a silent dinner and sermon reading afterwards. But Mattie is at least never under threat of real physical harm or rape. Still, she wants to get out of dodge, and, thanks to finding a dirty book and a hidden countess’s sexy diary, has found a way to do it. She’s created a literary alter ego, Cherie, whose published episodic sexual exploits are the talk of London. She hopes her publisher will pay her a handsome enough sum for her complete “memoir”, allowing her to move to the coast and set up a boarding home.
Into this scene rides Edward Kane, late of Waterloo, to return the personal effects of Mattie’s cousin, the late Toby, only child of the severe, super religious aunt and uncle. Edward has facial scars, a limp from a broken femur, three fingers missing from one hand, two from the other, and no right ear. He is a large hulking man in appearance, but quite gentle and kind in affect. He takes one look at the gloomy manse and tries to leave, but thanks to the uncle finding one of the letters, agrees to stay and find the identity of the woman who is writing them.
Why? I don’t know. Because the plot requires him not to leave. He has some guilt over Toby’s death, and feels sorry for the man who has lost his only son. It doesn’t even make too much sense that the uncle is so determined to find her, but not so determined that he ever lifts his own finger to do so. At this point, they only know Cherie is someone who lives in the village, not in the house, and ten fact that the uncle is a justice of the peace coupled with his religious nature, is supposed to be sufficiently motivating.
Mattie and Edward become friendly, taking walks together, etc. He doesn’t find her attractive at first, but slowly notices little things like her dimples. Their relationship really takes off when she asks him to have sex with her. Why would she do this? Because her publisher requires a deflowering scene and she cannot find any literary inspiration in the two sexy books she owns.
I felt the setup was unique, and I was compelled to read all the way through. I appreciated that Mattie’s aunt and uncle were, if not exactly developed, at least not totally demonized. There is nothing wrong with the writing, although it felt repetitive. Every chapter from Mattie’s point of view seemed to end on the “only one more episode and I am out of here” note, while every chapter from his ended on the mirroring, “only find Cherie and I am out of here.” Some words and phrases felt very overused.
Edward’s motives were kind of shifty as the plot required. Survivor’s guilt, feeling unlovable due to his injuries, PTSD etc. I think they are the same motives for every single Regency war hero and I find them dull at this point. Mattie was a better developed character, in some ways, but her problem was that she was too good to be true. When she eventually makes her great escape, she leaves most of her belongings to take a mother cat and her three kittens. Need I say more?
I appreciated the relationship that developed between Mattie and Edward, but it didn’t grab me until after they slept together and he made an ill-fated proposal. I should add that the two sex scenes were not sexy at all, although I would not say they were badly written, and I have no idea why that is. At that point I felt his character finally come in to sharp relief, with the result that the relationship became much more interesting, and I was riveted for the last ten percent of the book.
So, it was fine. At too many points I felt I could see the the way the sausage of the book was being made (in that house, of all houses, finding a former countess’s sexy diary, for example), and was not able to get truly lost in it, but for the unusual setting and plot, as well as likeable leads, I kept reading, and the last couple of chapters, which were more emotional and exciting than what had come before, made it worth it.