Someone to Watch Over Me, by Lisa Kleypas

9 Feb
Cover for Someone to Watch Over Me; on a field of teal, a white woman wearing a lovely emerald green shift reclines, showing legs and shoulders.

I am indulging in another re-read, a historical romance. This is the first book in a trilogy about the famed Bow Street Runners of late Regency-era London. 1

Reader beware: there’s graphic sex on the page, some adult language, attempted rape, and a fair bit of whorephobia.

Oh, and I spoil a key plot point in the review–though, if you’ve read some romance, you likely already know, from the blurb alone.

Someone to Watch Over me, by Lisa Kleypas

One of Ms Kleypas older books, this is that most rare of beasts in historical romance: both the hero and heroine come from what could be considered working middle class, rather than gentry.

Our hero is a Runner, one of the famed first police detectives in Britain, and as such, a working class bloke who has risen well above his birth through hard work and ingenuity. No only is he now wealthy enough he could quit and live off his investments, his profession allows him to mingle with all levels of society.

Of course, his backstory is darker and harder than “his parents were in trade”. We are told early on that his father, once a modest bookseller, ended up in debtor’s prison; his mother, dead, the children in an orphanage and later Grant, the only survivor, in the street.

Here’s the blurb:

She couldn’t remember who she was…

A temptingly beautiful woman awakens in a stranger’s bed, rescued from the icy waters of the Thames, her memory gone. Told that she is Vivien Rose Duvall, one of London’s most scandalous beauties, she finds herself under the protection of enigmatic, charming Grant Morgan. Her life is in his hands. Deep in her heart, she knows he has mistaken her for someone else…

He was the only man she could trust. As one of London’s most eligible, and unattainable catches, Grant Morgan is a man who has known every kind of woman. And the one in his arms now seems so innocent, so vulnerable, that he can’t help but be enchanted. And as his love for this mysterious beauty grows, he’s determined to unravel the secrets of her past and discover the truth-no matter what.

We find our heroine in the docks, thought to be dead by drowning. Upon finding her alive, and because he recognizes her, Grant takes her home, where he also finds marks on her that indicate someone tried their damnedest to strangle her. She was also hit on the head and then thrown in the Thames. Memory loss is the result.

Grant did not particularly like Vivian when he met her before this, but he does have a personal axe to grind. Now, he realizes that he wants her enough to put up with having her in his home, at least until he finds out who tried to murder her, whether or not she regains her memory by then.

Shenanigans ensue, both because our ertswhile demimondaine now behaves and speaks like a gently-bred virgin, who feels both gratitude and attraction towards her rescuer, and because Grant himself is ambivalent about her. What he knows of her, and what he finds out from her many former lovers, plus physical evidence at her home, paint a damning picture, while her manner and behavior are pretty much the opposite.

To this dynamic, we add the steps Grant and his superior, Sir Ross Cannon, take to find out who is behind the attack, which both provide further opportunity for the relationship to develop, and actually make some sense, investigatively, and we have an intriguing, internally consistent plot: light on the suspense, heavy on tropes and the main characters’ internal musings.

I have reviewed a couple of Ms Kleypas’ books before, and I generally like her writing voice and her characters: the romances flow naturally, the sex scenes are well written and contribute to character development. By the end of the novel, I’m convinced these two people will be happy together. 2

However, on re-reads I tend to find that things that I let go twenty years ago, are deal breakers today.

Someone to Watch Over Me is no exception.

Here’s what bothers me most now: our hero was perfectly happy to lie to the heroine, and basically use and discard her, both because he wanted her and to get back at her for her lies about him. Any qualms he feels are because she appears too innocent, and because he grows to like this Vivian.

But if she had in fact been Vivian, the one who lied about him? Grant would have felt zero regrets, “not after the sordid life she’d led”.

Because whores deserve whatever is done to them, apparently.

Furthermore, when other characters doubt that she could, in fact, be a whore, the evidence they have is that she is kind and considerate to the staff.

Because whores are of course selfish assholes without a good heart or kind manners.

And hey, our heroine herself is not just “ashamed” of the life she’s told she’s led so far; she actively despises herself for it, which is bad enough, but which also means that she feels guilty and ashame for reacting to Grant’s amorous overtures. “Only a whore would” is repeated in various ways throughout the book.

Of course, the setting of the book, both in time period and social environment are supposed to explain–nay, to justify all of the above.

We are supposed to admire that Grant was willing to overlook the heroine’s “sullied” past, and that he acknowledges to both himself and her, that he loves her, before finding out that, gee, she’s actually the gently-bred virgin she appears to be.

What saves the book for me is that the heroine does not let him off the hook with an apology over his fuckery. What she asks of him in terms of atonement is perfect, and how she puts the issue to him is very well done–though I am not sure he ever gets it, frankly.

However, we are also supposed to agree that her feelings of shame do her character credit: she’s a good woman, of course thinking herself a whore should make her despise herself!

All of which is bad enough in and of itself, but there is added insult to injury by making the twin not just “a depraved whore”, but also one who kept a book of potential blackmail material about all her previous clients, and who eventually abandoned her child out of selfishness. 3

So while the romance ends well, and I absolutely believe the characters are and will be happy together, the ingrained whorephobia grates mightily.

Someone to Watch Over Me gets 8.25 out of 10, mostly on the strength of nostalgia, I really should rate it lower because of the whorephobia.

* * * *

1 The research is probably not terrible; however, this novel perpetuates the myth that the Runners where called “Robin Redbreasts”–and let us not even go into the whole, “of course a man can tell if a woman was a virgin when he penetrates her for the first time”, because that’s a whole other trunk of grievance.

2 Okay, all but Derek Craven and what’s her name. Those two definitely do not belong together.

3 I would love to think that genre romance has moved on from this bullshit, in the twenty plus years since this novel was published. Alas, I know better. Alongside thousands of books glorifying maffia assassins and motorcycle gangs choked full of misogyny, we have the “stone the whore” trope going as strong as ever.

2 Responses to “Someone to Watch Over Me, by Lisa Kleypas”

  1. Miss Bates 09/02/2022 at 11:35 AM #

    The mother-whore and other-woman-whore can also die a thousand deaths and I wouldn’t be unhappy.

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