A Romantic Times Top Pick, THE MYSTERY KISS by Judith A. Landsdowne recreates the colorful, class bound society of the regency with humor and grace. Breaking the physical stereotypes of perfection, THE MYSTERIOUS KISS brings together a widow and a dashing earl. Fleur Marston has lovely long hair, but her longish nose and slightly jutting chin make her look rather ordinary, if not plain. Atticus Charles Howard, also known as the Spectre, is a very tall, very slender man with decidedly big ears. Both characters are also a bit older than typical heroes and heroines, giving them a depth of characterization and realism that is surprisingly refreshing.
Memories of her late husband's physical and mental abuse still haunt Fleur's sleep, even though Marston has been dead for more than a year. Despite her ill treatment at the hands of her husband and London society, Fleur plans to take her stepdaughter Althea to London for the season, introducing her to a "most intriguing and delightful sort of world." By chance, she encounters Atticus Charles Howard, the Earl of Hartshire, along the way.
London society does not tolerate those who wish to ingratiate themselves in their midst. Fleur, the daughter of a shipbuilder, knows very well the rude remarks, snide comments, and cruel gossip. Nevertheless, she risks her dignity, despite disparaging comments comparing her to an "encroaching mushroom", to provide Althea a coming out. Little does Fleur suspect that someone watches, admiring her strength of spirit, until a few whispers at the appropriate moments help her to secure just the right tone to hush the tongue wagers thereby substitute admiration for the accustomed viciousness.
A widower with a mysterious and exciting past, Atticus confidently tangles with spies and radicals seeking to destroy the crown even as he lacks the same confidence in his personal life. The chance meeting with Fleur captures his imagination, and when he arrives in London after a four year absence, Atticus can't resist inquiring about her. Soon he seems to magically appear at just the moments Fleur most needs encouragement, whether it be in person, or through illusion and the appellation "Montague". Though Fleur's heart and desire becomes torn between the two, it only takes a single magical kiss to convince Atticus of his growing feeling for Fleur. Yet he fears trying to court her, for Atticus can't imagine her wanting such a lump as him.
I admit to being captivating by the myriad details that make THE MYSTERY KISS so extraordinary. The homeopathic cure for motion sickness, the design of Fleur's riding habit, even the comparison of Fleur to a mushroom create a truly delightful tale. It's refreshing to read a novel of the regency not built on extreme youth and misunderstandings; thereby replacing the predictable and ordinary plot with one that's sharply invigorating. And Henry, the tickler dormouse who loves Atticus' pockets, makes an original pet. Unfortunately, there are a few details that do undercut the strength of THE MYSTERY KISS. Language choices do not always feel appropriate especially the not infrequent use of "ain't". Further, the subplots, while intriguing, need further exploration. Nevertheless, THE MYSTERY KISS is delightful, and comes highly recommended.