Anyone who's seen reviews I've written of other anthologies might be expecting a poor review here. But actually, not in this case. For once, I seem to have stumbled across an anthology in which the individual novellas are all very readable, enjoyable, and which suit the format of a shorter length. This is particularly surprising in the case of this anthology, in which all stories are about 70 pages long.
Three of my favourite writers are in this five-author anthology, which might have contributed to my enjoyment - but then Putney and Layton's novellas are not set in eighteenth- or nineteenth-century England, which is the setting I'm used to from them.
There is something of a theme to the collection, in that four out of five stories concern men who are or who appear to be rogues, and who reform right under the heroine's nose. MJP's contribution, set in Texas a hundred or so years ago, sees a condemned man being taken to hang for murder. Along the way, a young woman - who, it turns out, might have good reason to hate him - takes pity on him and they spend one unforgettable night together. But he's condemned to die, so how can they have a future?
Joan Wolf, an author I've never encountered before, sets her story, The Antagonists, in Regency England; the hero and heroine are cousins who grew up together. I would normally have wanted much more to this story, but Wolf uses an interesting technique. The story is told in first person, from the heroine's POV. And since Dinah starts off by telling us how spoilt and nasty her cousin Thorn (the Earl of Thornton) is, we're led off on quite a misleading track. (Although Dinah does reveal that she has a tendency to exaggerate!)
Layton's contribution, Buried Treasure, was the disappointment in this collection for me. A pirate narrowly survives a murder attempt and recovers in the house of a beautiful young woman whose seduction he plots. Unfortunately, for reasons related to both his behaviour towards her and to his fellow pirates, I couldn't come to like Dancer at all, and wouldn't want to re-read this novella.
Next was Patricia Rice, also new to me; her tale, Fathers and Daughters, covers the well-worn subject-matter of an impoverished suitor who was turned away by the heroine's father. Carolyn also believes that Jack accepted money from her father to walk away from her. Now that he's back, can he possibly convince her that he wasn't only interested in her money, and that he wasn't paid to reject her?
Finally, Mary Balogh's Precious Rogue. This is a lovely story, told with Balogh's great skill; Patricia, the poor relation who is effectively her aunt's slave, has no great opinion of her cousin's suitor, Mr Bancroft. After all, the man is an unprincipled rake, and - although no-one else seems to notice - during Patricia's aunt's house party Bancroft conducts clandestine affairs with at least three women. But what Patricia can't ignore is the fact that he is *nice* to her. And she enjoys their verbal fencing... too much for her own good. After all, he's going to marry her cousin...
This one is certainly worth a look.