Miss Bates was conflicted reading Duran’s latest, A Lady’s Code Of Misconduct, her responses a roller-coaster of dips and climbs of disappointment or enthusiasm. Misconduct contains Duran’s signature themes: trust, conscience, identity, wealth, class, ambition, power, and how they mesh, shift, and change as two people who start out one way make their way to their better selves because they discover they love the other.
To start, Duran’s narrative takes a convoluted route, opening with a compelling scene and then flashback to bring us the sequence of events leading to it. A man in his prime, a Victorian MP, Crispin Burke, lies dying of a head wound in his parents’ London house. Charlotte, his sister, brings a young woman to his death-bed, a woman who is familiar, yet he’s ignorant of their relationship. Jane Burke, née Mason, announces she is his wife.
Duran then takes us three months prior: filling in Crispin and Jane’s unholy alliance, bred of coercion, manipulation, and expediency. Duran’s plot starts and remains tangled. Crispin and Jane have been long-acquainted: Crispin, a frequent visitor to Jane’s uncle’s, her guardian’s, estate. Allied by ambition, Crispin and Uncle Philip shared a politics of personal gain. They’re not friends, nor loyal, content to use each other for political gain. Duran sets up the villainy: by pointing to how people, without love, see the other as an object, used for personal advancement.
In flashback, we learn Jane and Crispin’s marriage-of-convenience came at the end of an antagonistic yet mutually beneficial arrangement. Jane and Crispin are initially trapped by money and, in turn, want to use money to free themselves. Jane is an heiress, but Uncle Philip is using her money to advance politically and financially. He’s sequestered her in the country; at 23, she’s never been to London, or had a début as would be her heiress-wont. Philip plans to marry Jane to his gormless son, Archibald, to ensure her fortune remains “in the family.” Jane, despite her meek, lacklustre appearance, plans an escape, marry for convenience and gain control of her fortune. Crispin catches and returns her to Uncle Philip – with a proviso to save her reputation and keep her plans secret as long as she spies on Philip on his behalf. In return, he will help her avoid Archibald by providing her with a false marriage, thanks to an archbishop Crispin has in his pocket. (What Spy-Jane discovers, which we don’t learn about till long after Crispin miraculously survives the head-blow that felled him when he was set upon by ruffians, is the novel’s romantic suspense plot’s crux.)
Miss Bates enjoyed how Duran showed Crispin and Jane entrapped by money: Jane because she had it and Crispin because, as a second son, he didn’t. As Crispin lies dying, Jane, though we’re never witness to this scene, uses Crispin’s arrangement with the archbishop to create a mock-marriage with him, ensuring her escape from Uncle Philip. Except Crispin doesn’t die and the archbishop does. When Crispin wakes, it is to the sight of his wife, Jane. And wife she is as far as he’s concerned because Crispin has amnesia. With the archbishop dead, her fortune still tied up with her uncle, no means to undo the “marriage” (as it is on public record), Jane finds herself married to the man who, until now, was her drama’s villain.
Duran’s premise swallows her novel’s first half. Miss Bates wasn’t impressed. But Duran is a novelist capable of complex, interesting characterisation. Her characters’ inner worlds, motivations and conflicts, inner and with each other, win her over. Duran uses Crispin’s amnesia and physical weakness, much as Kinsale does Jervaulx’s stroke, to call forth the emergence of a better man and cement the romance’s main theme – love brings about a transformation that is in potentia given the right conditions: a change of heart brought about by caring for the beloved. Crispin’s journey is in becoming a good man, which, given that he doesn’t remember the villain-self who bribed and coerced his way into political power, is, at least initially, as easy as simply deciding to be his best self.
Duran has a character quandary and MissB. isn’t sure she answered it well. From whence does this new, improved Crispin come? It can’t be, at least initially, from his love for Jane: he can’t love what he can’t remember; at most, what he feels is a gentleman’s duty and good will. “Good” Crispin fails at first because he seems to appear like Athena sprung from her father, Zeus’s head – out of the blue, Crispin, a gracious, warm being. He seems to come from a decent family and behaves as they would have a gentleman, with manners, education, and grace. So, what created Past-Bad-Crispin? Sadly, there’s melodrama and hurt, blame, and a “sad sad thing” that happened. Bit of a cop-out, thought MissB., when compared to Jervaulx’s frustrated little cruelties, Good-Crispin is less interesting than Flashback-Crispin.
What of Jane? Considered superficially, Jane is less compelling. Her flaws are borne of being a woman at a time when women were “less than”. Her sins are deception and not speaking her mind, not showing what a fine mind she has. Being married to the loving, understanding Crispin-Two gives her that freedom. Jane blossoms under him and comes forth as a highly intelligent, moral woman. With Jane’s blooming, the care for the poor and oppressed her parents taught her, comes to light. Jane guides Improved-Crispin to ethical political choices and the championing of causes to help the vulnerable. Jane manifests as a political thinker as astute as Crispin: now they’re on the right side and united, the good they can do is boundless. This part of the novel was well done. (Miss Bates enjoyed it as much as she did the relationship portrayed in the film, Amazing Grace, between William Wilberforce and Barbara Spooner.)
Jane’s mistrust of her husband (will he go back to Bad-Crispin once he remembers all?) becomes a point of contention/confusion for Crispin. When Crispin remembers the man he was, he understands Jane’s misgivings. He feels shame, but also wants her to love the whole of him, flaws, past, and all. Crispin wants Jane to choose him, even knowing who he was, not only because he now uses his formidable abilities for good. In turn, Jane is ashamed of her deception and feels she’s living on borrowed time with the New-Crispin she loves. It’s a mess, but Duran has something to say about what Crispin and Jane need to do to “unmess” and make their way to love and commitment. An integration of personality, with flaws, foibles, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and even villainies, must be achieved within both hero and heroine in the service of love, commitment, fidelity, and the greater good, the community, for true happiness to be possible.
Duran’s novel is convoluted and contrived, but also thought-provoking. It is the romance of a couple’s great journey learning to bare their softest, truest selves to be free to live their love. In the end, Misses Austen and Bates were won over by Duran’s A Lady’s Code Of Misconduct: “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Meredith Duran’s A Lady’s Code Of Misconduct is published by Pocket Books. It was released in February 2017 and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Pocket Books, via Netgalley.
13 thoughts on “REVIEW: Meredith Duran’s A LADY’S CODE OF MISCONDUCT”
I am so so glad you reviewed this one Miss B! I read this book coming off a long dry spell of NOT reading and was surprised by the way this one didn’t work so well for me, considering so many readers had such high praise for it and Duran *is* a favorite writer of mine. I attributed my disappointment to (mostly, anyway) the political machinations throughout the narrative and the romance (I am trying my best to avoid all roms with this hook as if they’re plague-infested rats), but there were wiggly squirming nebulous other things shifting around in my head I couldn’t quite name, put a finger on. You nailed them all for me here in your review – the mysterious origin of “Good Crispin”, why “Flashback Crispin” was more compelling, and that Jane felt rather lackluster compared to other Duran heroines.
It is a thoughtful novel, and I’m sure I could have done much worse in choosing another writer/book to break my reading fast, but I totally agree it was indeed a rollercoaster of highs and lows for me as well. Thank you so much for clarifying what I couldn’t seem to at the time. I’m more and more convinced we are truly reading twins separated at birth. 🙂
Dear Reading Twin-Sister, thank you for the comment! I’m with you on Duran: she really IS a favourite author and one Duran-dud won’t put me off her books after the likes of Duke Of Shadows, A Lady’s Lesson In Scandal, and the incomparable At Your Pleasure. In this particular instance, Misconduct has too much going on and not quite enough: convoluted plotting and “theming” yet under-developped heroine.
I say “Duran-dud” because, even when less than her best, Duran is still a great and, yes, most thoughtful romance writer. She was trying to do interesting things here, they just didn’t always work. What we can say about Duran is that she never feels run-of-the-mill, or formulaic.
BTW, I really loved her novella, “Sweetest Regret”, so much better than Misconduct. Have you read it? Because I think you’d really like it.
Onwards and forwards to continued reading and critiquing for the reading twins!
I haven’t read Sweetest Regret but I’m on it now. 🙂 Thank you!
It’s lovely, everything right that Misconduct got wrong. Read it on a train home, it was perfect.
I am one of the ones who urged Kathy to try this book, as I loved it with a love so true–definitely not a dud for me.* The emergence of ‘good’ Crispin didn’t bother me as I was going with the flow of the whole amnesia set-up. I loved all the political stuff–it is catnip for me. Yes, Jane could have been more fleshed out, maybe, but I found quite enough there to understand her and cheer for her. The villainous uncle was a bit over the top, however, and the whole kidnap/rescue scene at the end, while quite exciting, was a bit much.
*There is one Duran book that I just couldn’t get into at all, and another that I doubt I will re-read (Naming no names deliberately). I have read everything of hers that’s available in the US, most of them several times over. She is an auto-buy for me.
Note 1–You will perhaps recognize that several of the minor characters appeared in the second half of ‘Duke of Shadows’. I am thrilled that her next book will be about Lord Lockwood. Now I just have to wait ’til next February.
Note 2–Sheesh! that cover!!! The book takes place in the 1860s. Hoop skirts are mentioned. Epic fail.
(Though not as bad as the ‘Gigi’ cover on ‘At Your Pleasure’, which takes place in the early 1700s. Sigh…)
Oh, thank you for adding a positive note for the book. I love it when we can get more than one perspective. I can’t say, as you can tell from the review (*rolls eyes at self*) that I didn’t love it the way I have other Durans. But I agree about the “auto-buy”: Duran writes interesting, thoughtful romance. BTW, the politics part was my favourite part of the novel, actually, esp. the scene in the Commons. I really enjoyed Crispin’s speech.
I didn’t realize the allusions to Duke of Shadows: I read it when it came out and, other than the memory of LOVING IT, I can’t say I remember any details. The small hint of Lord Lockwood that we have here does sound fascinating. Looking forward to that too!
I recognized Lockwood’s name as I had recently re-read ‘Duke of Shadows’ while waiting for ‘Misconduct’ to come out. I am generally very bad with character names.
I understand. My memory for book details is like a sieve.
As is often the case, an excellent review makes me want to read a book, even if the reviewer ends up assigning less than “5 stars.” I agree that even a less than stellar effort by certain authors (Duran, Chase, & Hunter are three I always find worth reading) can still be a worthwhile read. Thanks so much for your thoughtful reviews!
You’re most welcome! Thank you for commenting. 🙂 I’ve never read Hunter: what’s your favourite?!
Hands down DANGEROUS IN DIAMONDS, which is actually my favorite non-Heyer HR. Hunter not only writes a good romance with lots of interesting background, she also depicts her heroes in a way that is (IMO) both believable and enjoyable. I highly recommend the Fairbourne Quartet as well as the series containing The Sinner, The Seducer, et cetera. I hope you like them!
These are wonderful recs, thank you!!
I’ve got several Hunter recs, but very different than Genevieve’s favorites! I loved her medievals, “By Arrangement” “By Possession” and “By Design”. I thought the men were too domineering in the Fairbourne quartet, but that kind of thing works better in a medieval.
And I really loved her recent “Wicked” trilogy, the first book was “His Wicked Reputation”. The heroes are 3 brothers, and she does male friendship/sibling love better than anyone.
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