Monday, 30 June 2014
#CBR6 Book 62: "What Happens in London" by Julia Quinn
Rating: 4.5 stars
When her friends tell Olivia Bevelstoke that her new neighbour is rumoured to have murdered his fiancee, she doesn't believe it for a second. But she can't help but be curious, and as is office window is clearly visible from her bedroom, she starts to spy on him from behind her curtains. She's convinced he can't see her, and becomes more and more puzzled at the things she observes.
Sir Harry Valentine works for the war office, but not with anything exciting like spying. Fluent in Russian and French, he mainly translates documents necessary for national security. He has, however, been trained to observe, and only a blind man would fail to notice the pretty young lady constantly spying on him from the house next door. It's quite clear that she's trying to hide her activities, but she's oh so very bad at it. Why in the world would Miss Olivia Bevelstoke be so interested in his day to day life? And how can he resist doing making the experience more entertaining for her by doing some truly baffling things now and then?
When Harry is told to keep a careful eye on Olivia because she is being courted by a Russian prince who may or may not be plotting against England, he's none too happy, as their first encounters have been less than promising. The more time he spends with his pretty neighbour, the more he discovers that he doesn't mind at all, and he'd rather she didn't accept the attentions of the handsome Russian prince, actually.
A lot of romance features convoluted plots, heroes and heroines with dark and complicated pasts, all manner of baggage, angst and emotional issues. Horrible parents, shady relatives, scandal, heartbreak and all manner of drama. There is very little of these things in What Happens in London. Harry's father is a drunk and his mother became emotionally withdrawn because of it, and now his younger brother is upset with him because he felt abandoned when Harry went off to join the army rather than go to University, but in the grand scheme of romance heroes, Sir Harry got off rather lightly. He has a charming cousin who endlessly teases him, but in general, he's fairly well-adjusted, without too many skeletons in his closet.
Olivia's biggest problems are 1) that her best friend married her older brother (see The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, if you must, it's probably my LEAST favourite Julia Quinn book of all time) and has moved away to the countryside with him to have babies, and they only communicate through letters now and 2) that her twin brother enjoys embarrassing her in public. Because she's bored, she lets herself be persuaded that there is something mysterious and sinister about Harry Valentine. She couldn't be further from the truth, although he is extremely amused when he discovers why she started spying on him in the first place. There is no angst or family dysfunction in Olivia's life. She's stunningly beautiful, to the point where people underestimate her intelligence. It also means that she's received more than her fair share of marriage proposals, but Olivia wants to marry for love, and hasn't met that special someone yet.
The only thing I really don't like about this book, which is funny and charming and really remarkably low key, is some rather contrived drama towards the end of the book. Much of the plot takes place either in the Bevelstokes' drawing room or with Olivia and Harry having late night conversations through their windows, she from her bedroom, he from his office. It's as if Quinn didn't think her readers could possibly be satisfied with such a simple story, and therefore introduces possible Russian spies and a kidnapping episode, where central characters have to come to the rescue of other central characters. It feels out of place in this story and all a bit silly. That's the reason I can't give the book a full five stars. A couple who fall in love while discussing books, that I am fully in support of, though.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.