This is the first Georgette Heyer I have ever read and I was instantly enraptured by this story. Jack Carstares may be in disgrace after a "cheating at cards" episode, but after six years travelling abroad he feels the need to return to England. He takes up being a highwayman as a hobby, but a chance encounter with his younger brother begins to draw him back among his old friends. So bring on the wicked Duke, the Black Moth, an evocative portrait of the eighteenth century aristocratic libertine; the younger brother with the vain and capricious wife; the dark beauty threatened with the loss of virtue and liberty and we're all set for a rollicking story. It is a virtuosic piece of entertainment and should have been made into a film long ago. The settings are exquisite, every detail of indoor and outdoor background evocative without forcing itself on the reader's attention. The characters are well defined in an Austen-esque way that makes you want to see them in the flesh. Heyer also builds tension in a subtle way that does not overexcite, but creates anticipation and satisfaction in equal measure. The ending is nicely drawn without sickly sentiment or the hideous clash of wedding bells. As the Earl of Wyncham, Jack has responsibilities that he refuses to take up, and somewhere inside this very entertaining tale runs the theme of responsibility and its consequences. There is more thematic depth here than you might be led to believe. It is a shame that she has a reputation among the general reading public as a popular writer of schmaltzy romance, for those in the know she is a writer of skill whose stories are rich in detail and character, and who sets a great example as the best of popular historical fiction.
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