Claudia Milmont has lived most of her joyless life with her grandparents, though her mother enjoys the fringes of society in London. When Claudia’s Aunt Sophie dies, a whole new world opens up for her. Cantankerous Sophie has instructed that her diamonds be buried with her—and Claudia is determined to help her cousin retrieve them. But the charming Sir Hillary Thoreau, a nonesuch, is co-executor of Sophie’s will and he’s keeping a sharp eye out for any mischief—and for Claudia, too, it would seem.
This is Joan Smith’s 2nd book (written in 1977) and concentrates on the (mis)adventures of a group of young people seeking to regain Aunt Sophie’s diamonds. It is also one of my favourite Joan Smith books.
CLAUDIA MILMONT is on her annual visit to her mother (who chooses to hide Claudia in order to hide her own ‘advanced’ age from the world), who has taken her not to London as Claudia so desperately wants, but to Aunt Sophie’s deathbed. Mrs Milmont’s aim is of course to get as much of the inheritance as possible, whilst Claudia is just enjoying respite from her normal life.
SIR HILLARY THOREAU is Aunt Sophie’s closest neighbour and certainly starts out as more the villain rather than the hero of this story with his rather sardonic way of talking. This is soon shown to be his way towards people he doesn’t like and as he does like Claudia, he soon reverts to his normal good manners.
So what’s the book about?
This is in many ways a very traditional Regency romance – an Alpha male; a heroine who acts as an unpaid servant for her family – your classic Cinderella story in other words.
But then, you keep reading and you realise there’s more to this than just girl meets boy (though that is always a lovely story when well-told of course).
There’s also her ironic take on the Gothic novels that were so popular during that era:
“Oh, is Gabriel to come? I thought it would be more dangerous if we went alone at midnight, just the two of us.”
I’ll be in London, and you and Gabriel will be here—right on the doorstep of the buried diamonds.” “The graveyard is not on my doorstep,” Hillary replied. “Really, you cannot think I would tolerate so funereal a view. The prospect from my doorway is of gently rolling lawns, well manicured, with discreet groupings of trees at well-placed intervals. Relieves the monotony of just grass without impeding the long-range view.”
Then there’s the banter between the hero and heroine:
You know, till tonight I took you for a fairly sensible woman, Miss Milmont,” Sir Hillary said.
“That is quite a common mistake with people who are first making my acquaintance. I am really a person who craves excitement and danger.”
It only encourages pests to hang around if you feed them.” “Do you suppose that is why he has given us no more than a cup of cocoa after our night’s labor?” Claudia asked Loo in a loudish voice.
Claudia is slightly older than traditional heroines (24!) which I particularly liked and she is treated as a human being though on occasion she does come across as slightly immature – no doubt caused by her rural seclusion with her grandparents.
I also love, love, love the chess scenes!
What didn’t I like about the book?
Well, there’s the small matter of first names being used by non-relatives, without any form of consent being given – poor ton indeed! But in the overall scheme of the book, that is small indeed.
And to be honest there’s not a lot of straight-out romance. Much more is made of the mystery than of the romance between Claudia and Sir Hillary. Though it is subtly laid out, particularly his intentions, throughout the book there is less than you might find in a historical romance published nowadays.
However, if you’re looking for a witty Cinderella-type Regency romance with a strong helping of mystery as well and are happy with a subtle (but meaningful) romance then I can highly recommend this book!