Georgette Heyer had the fortunate knack of selecting catchy titles for her novels that were a perfect match to what would unfold inside: THE CONVENIENT MARRIAGE, THE UNKNOWN AJAX, BATH TANGLE, DEVIL'S CUB, SPRIG MUSLIN, THE NONESUCH, and on and on. Each title is short, evocative and intriguing. FALSE COLOURS is a perfect example. Anyone with a modicum of military knowledge will recognize the term `flying false colors' or flying a flag of a country other than one's own to deceive the enemy into believing that a ship or fort or field banner is of a friend or allies until they are trapped. That is exactly what transpires in Heyer's Regency-era novel FALSE COLOURS. The Honorable Christopher "Kit" Fancot is pressed into operating under a false flag by impersonating his identical twin brother Evelyn, Lord Denville, who has inconveniently disappeared at a critical moment in the Fancot families lives.
Two years after the close of the Napoleonic Wars, Kit returns to England from diplomatic service in Vienna to meet his widowed mother Lady Denville distraught over the disappearance of his older brother Evelyn on the eve of an important introduction to his future bride and her family. Because of his mother's mounting debts Evelyn must make a quick alliance so he will have access to his family trust. Their future depends upon Evelyn marrying the Honorable Miss Cressida Stavely, an heiress whose formidable grandmother the Dowager Lady Stavely must approve the marriage or the betrothal is off. Lady Denville begs Kit to impersonate his brother for just one evening to win time to locate his wayward brother. He agrees and the masquerade begins.
When Lady Denville invites Evelyn's fiancé and her family to their country estate for a small gathering the hoax must continue. Kit soon discovers that Evelyn's alliance with Miss Stavley is a marriage of convenience for both of them. His trust will be available to him upon his marriage and she will be free of her imposing step-mother. As Kit and Cressy are thrown together they are attracted to each other. By careful deduction and a few blunders by others, Cressy is able to discover that Kit is impersonating his brother. But, she has fallen in love with him of course and keeps his secret. When the prodigal son finally resurfaces with a wild story of where he has been and news of finding true love, the two brothers must either face the scandal of their deception, or depend upon their mother to devise an alternate solution that suits them both.
Originally published in 1963, False Colours has its charms and foibles. Heyer is in true form excelling at historical detail, but the plot, though surrounded by memorable characters finely drawn, was predictable and so formulaic that I was wracking my brain trying to remember other famous brother or look-a-like swapping stories: THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK or PRISONER OF ZENDA, and a vague recollection of Shakespeare using this device too. Because Kit holds back his feelings for Cressy, the romance really takes a back burner until the very end. The most dominate relationship in the book, which took up a chunk of dialogue, was between Kit and his mother. He was noble and admirable. She on the other hand was vapid, silly and careless. Happily, in true Heyer fashion, the two most sensible characters do end up together. But that was telescoped from the beginning. It was just a joy to watch her craft in getting us there.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose