Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The "Old Gentleman" Orders All

The Masqueraders

Heyer's seventh novel, The Masqueraders, was published in 1928.  I absolutely love this one!

Set in England it tells the story of Prudence and Robin Merriott, brother and sister, who arrive in England from France on the orders of their father, whom they call The Old Gentleman.

The two have grown up following their father across Europe, often taking assumed names and even switching genders with one another -- which is how they arrive in England.  Prudence, tall and built on queenly lines, dresses and acts the part of Mr. Peter Merriott, while Robin, small and compact, dresses and acts the part of Peter's sister, Kate.  Since Robin, along with their father, has recently taken part in the late Jacobite Rebellion, they feel it is a matter of life or death to maintain such a desguise.

They are guests of an old friend, Lady Lowestoft, who knows their true identities, and are supposed to wait quitely until their father arrives.  But they are inadvertantly drawn into society in their disguises by chancing upon and twarting the abduction of a young innocent.  Robin (Kate), of course, falls for the girl, Letty, while Prudence (Peter), befriended by Sir Anthony Fanshawe, a close friend of Letty's father, finds herself drawn to him.

With the help of their faithful retainer, John, the two maintain their disguises through many close calls until the very end of the book, when The Old Gentleman sets all to rights with a surprise that rocks the ton  and restores the family's fortune and rightful place in society.

The Masqueraders has romance, adventure, intrigue, and one of the most annoyingly egotistical characters ever encountered -- The Old Gentleman.   There is a dastardly villain, swordfights, tipping wine down sleeves (you have to read it to see what that means!), and a wonderful love story!  All ends well, of course, but the journey to that delightful end makes this one that you MUST try to find in your local library. 

Heyer was only 25 when she wrote this book and was living in Africa with her husband at the time.  This is one of my favorites, in my top 10.  It is light, has a fast plot, and adorable main characters.

My only copy is a hardcover, Heinemann edition, a fourth printing of the first editon, and even though it is in poor physical shape, I am very proud to have it.  The image at the top is of a newer softcover copy.