This is an entertaining early romance by Heyer, and some of the plot construction issues hadn’t been smoothed out yet, but the delightful characters make up for it. To get my plot beef out of the way, it is pointless to have the humorous/suspenseful misdirection occur after the climax rather than on the way to it. Yes, the characters don’t know that the situation has been resolved, but the reader does, and this undercuts both the suspense and (as the misdirection becomes annoying/lengthy) the humor. Also the main character is somewhat dropped in the second half and not as involved in the resolution as I’d like.
Despite this structural failing, this was a wonderful read. In a time when news of rape and other sexual misdeeds is everywhere, I enjoyed reading about the diminutive, stammering, and generally heedless Horry getting the better of a would-be rapist by hitting him over the head with a poker. Yes, the plot has a very 30’s attitude toward gender, and the characters are from an even less enlightened time (a sympathetic character suggests Horry’s husband beat her–Heyer doesn’t try to make her heroes and heroines better than their age). There’s also a bit of casual anti-Semitism–not as bad as the later The Grand Sophy, but still not good.
If you can deal with these flaws, you will be rewarded with a madcap tale of fake highwaymen, masked balls, mistaken identity, gambling and, of course, falling in love where it’s least expected–between two people who are already married! Heyer is great at writing disturbingly sexy villains, competent heroes, non-passive heroines, and hilarious side characters. The drunken antics of Horry’s brother and his friends had me in stitches. She’s also good at portraying three-dimensional portraits of people whose flaws genuinely hurt others, yet who have great virtues. You’ll want to punch and applaud the same person.
It’s not as well put-together structurally as some of her other novels such as Faro’s Daughter, but it packs in tons of entertainment. Even if you don’t read romance (I usually prefer other genres), Heyer’s books are accessible, funny, and generally worth a try.