Someone to Watch Over Me, by Lisa Kleypas

Title: Someone to Watch Over Me (Bow Street Runners #1)
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Year of Publication: 1999
Length: 362 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: Re-Read
Rating: 3 stars

This book starts with an interesting conceit, combining and altering a few more typical plot devices to create an unusual situation. Grant Morgan is a Bow Street Runner — the intermediate stage in the development of London’s law enforcement between the constabulary system and the Metropolitan police. This alone is a fairly unusual choice for hero material, but Kleypas is really great at that. She never shies from venturing outside the typical ranks of the aristocracy for her material, and the Bow Street Runners are interesting material to draw from. They provide a grounds for not only a new view on late-Hanoverian/early-Victorian society, (it’s hard to tell precisely when this book is set, for what it’s worth, and that is always something that will bother me. I would generally put it somewhere in the 1830s, however, so either William IV or Victoria is on the throne), but also for professional life and the underworld.

So. Our story begins when Grant arrives on the scene of an attempted murder; a woman was strangled and thrown in the Thames, but she didn’t quite die. He recognises her as Vivien Duvall, a notorious courtesan who had embarrassed him at some time in the past. Except, when she wakes up, she has amnesia, with no idea who she is or how she ended up in the river — and the personality she displays is entirely at odds with what he knows about Vivien. Far from being the brazen, caustic gold-digger, she is sweet, modest, and compassionate. Attempts to jar her memory by exposing her to her past — including a rather lurid diary, scandalous clothing, and a nude painting of herself — only result in embarrassing her. And then we learn that Vivien was visibly pregnant not long before she disappeared — but definitely is not now.

This might be a spoiler, but, honestly, I think you’d have to be pretty dense not to figure it out quickly, so I’m going to go ahead with it: Vivien is not, in fact, Vivien. When Grant seduces her, they find out — whoops! — she’s a virgin. Eventually, as her memory trickles back in, she pieces together that she’s been mistaken for her (gasp!) twin sister. Her name is actually Victoria, and she’s been living in genteel poverty out in the country somewhere. Vivien told her that she was in a spot of trouble, and she came to London to try to help, at the same time that Vivien fled London for the country; someone else mistook her for her sister and tried to kill her.

There are some logic-holes in this story. The “secret twin” thing is a little cliched, though at least spiced up with the courtesan angle. That a respectable man would just up and decide to keep a notorious woman in his house under the guise of figuring out her near-murder case is a little odd. (I mean, even if you were keeping a courtesan, you don’t bring them home, you get them their own apartments). But, then, Kleypas rarely lets things like good sense stand in the way of her plots. Vivien is a little too good to be true, and that makes her, honestly, a little bland as a heroine. The book doesn’t have as much quick wit and humour as I like from my romances. But, it is serviceable as a story, and it opens a nice trilogy on the Bow Street Runners.

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