TBR Day. Cupboard Kisses / Barbara Metzger. 1989

This month's TBR theme is "fairy tales." I was pawing through my TBR pile and I couldn't find anything that would match the theme. So I went with this very early Barbara Metzger book (her 4th I believe) that I have wanted to read for some time.

So, according to this entry at Wikipedia, the title of the book refers to kisses that are given in order to receive a reward. It's an apt title as the book is a farce featuring a series of misunderstandings where the heroine is mistaken for a courtesan. Cristabel Swann is a well-bred orphan who has spent the last several years teaching at a school near Bath. She learns that her uncle has died and she goes to London expecting to claim an inheritance that would allow her to live independently. Meanwhile, before his death her uncle had lost everything he owns to Captain Kenley Chase, a naval hero who has recently returned home to step into a Viscountancy (is that the right word?) that he inherited when his older brother died. Captain Chase/Lord Winstoke is living in the uncle's home when Cristabel arrives in London.

When Cristabel meets Captain Chase, his eyes are covered in bandages as he's recovering from having shrapnel removed from his head. So he doesn't see her, he can only hear her. Because of the bandages, she doesn't get a good look at his face. They immediately get into a disagreement about what is owed her, so neither is impressed with the other. Feeling some sort of obligation to her, eventually he offers her a job managing a boardinghouse which was one of the properties her uncle had left behind.

Because this is a farce, naturally it turns out that the boardinghouse is really a bordello, managed by a Major MacDermott and his sidekick, Nick Blass. Together the men conspire to hide the true purpose of the boardinghouse from Cristabel and for a couple of weeks she's oblivious to their deceit. Meanwhile Cristabel meets Lord Winstoke. Neither recognizes the other. As Lord Winstoke he's taken by Cristabel and wants to become her protector. Cristabel, being naive, has dreams of marriage.

Eventually Cristabel catches on and everything is sorted out. As a farce, this is a funny book with a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. As a romance, you can tell that this is one of Metzger's earlier books. Cristabel and Kenley do not spend very much time together (maybe less than 15-20% of the book), so it's not particularly satisfying from that end. But there is some wonderful dialogue that would become Metzger's trademark. You can see flashes here of the kind of writing that would make Metzger a popular author of the short, traditional Regencies.

Quite a few of Metzger's old trads have been digitized. While I enjoyed this one (which does not appear to be available as an ebook, so you'd have to find a paper copy), I highly recommend some of her other trads that have been digitized, such as Lady SparrowLord Heartless, An Affair of Interest, or Father Christmas, to name but a few.

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