2012; 281 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Historical Romance. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
It’s 1955, it’s London, and Brenda Vale is looking for a rich young man to marry. She has found romance, but unfortunately for her plans, it is in the form of a German girl named Grete. Can she have her cake and eat it too?
Nigel Dodd is young and will eventually be rich. But he still lives at home with his wealthy parents, so his inheritance is a long way off. And he is happily married. Well, at least he’s content with it. So he is hardly a suitable target for Brenda.
But Fate is about to turn Nigel’s life upside-down.
There is drama; there is intrigue; and there is subtle humor. Yet at its core, Darling Brenda is a love story. There’s not a lot of action, but Richard Herley laces the plotline with twists and gives you three characters that you will genuinely care for and worry about. Brenda is jaded; Grete is stoically world-wise; and Nigel has the cluelessness of a Bernie Wooster without a Jeeves to look after him. They’re all in love (although each defines it a bit differently), and you will find yourself pulling for each one.
The book is written in “British”, and that’s always a literary treat. There are some deep insights about same-sex relationships in the 1950’s. It was not a good time to be (forgive the anachronism) “gay”. You didn’t have a lot of options other than the closet.
For me, the biggest delight about Darling Brenda is the author’s skill in giving lush, detailed descriptions of 1950’s England. You can "sit" on the porch of the Dodd estate, and “see” the lake, the cars, and the surrounding countryside. At one point, Herley spends a dozen sentences telling you about a pair of candlesticks that have no bearing on the story. I ate it up.
Some of the nuances of the intrigue eluded me, but that’s neither here nor there. The bad guys want money; Nigel doesn’t have it. The rationale for why they think Nigel should pay is not important. The consequences of failing to pay are. The ending felt a little forced, yet it was both logical and satisfying.
Kewlest New Word...Doolally : Feeble-minded or deranged (Britishism. Is that a kewl word or what?!)
Excerpts...Brenda began to wonder if she had made a mistake. This would deflect her yet further from her ambition: to find and marry some pliable man with money. So far she had met plenty of men, but few had been pliable, and even fewer had any money. She liked going to bed with them, perhaps too well; but always there was something else, something better, out there, waiting for her, just as Grete had been waiting today. (loc. 38)
"I can't sign this," Nigel said.
"Apart from everything else, it's not even grammatical. Look. 'To sincerely apologise'. Unforced split infinitive. And why a capital letter for 'Client' or 'Purchasers' or 'Property'? And this is pleonastic. 'Very sorry when there's a regrettable lapse'. Besides all which, I'd rather hang myself than creep to a man like that." (loc.1296)
Darling Brenda is $3.99 at Amazon. Richard Herley's books range from that price all the way down to free (The Stone Arrow), and so far I've enjoyed them all.
"O Nigel, you are a chump." (loc. 3088)I’ll be honest; reading Romance novels is not my shtick. But this is not some sappy Harlequin lust story (*) ; it is a powerful piece of historical drama. And I confess that Darling Brenda was a page-turner for me. As much for the vivid scenes of England as for finding out how both the business and the love tangles were going to be resolved.
8 Stars. Add another star if you actually like to read Romance.
(*) : That genre is left to my wife. I read a line from the book she’s currently reading last night. It went something like this : “His powerful tongue split her lips like a knife.” Argh.