Although Black (Wild Cat, Ravenburn) allows her latest cheerful 19th-century-Scotland romance to wheeze down to a lengthy,...



Although Black (Wild Cat, Ravenburn) allows her latest cheerful 19th-century-Scotland romance to wheeze down to a lengthy, labyrinthian unveiling of murder and conspiracy, most of this is as funny, fast, and happily frivolous as usual. And much of the fun here is generated by a grandly outrageous aristocratic despot: octogenarian Selina, the red-wigged Countess of Strathgallant--a queen of the virtuoso insult, with the face of an eagle and the voice of a trumpet. Among those dancing in attendance at Selina's castle: blowsily ""artistic"" Marianne, widow of Selina's son; and poor, timorous Violet Carmichael, the Countess' companion--also known as ""turkey wits,"" ""Ninny Hammer,"" etc. But Selina's most important vassal is her 18-year-old ward Perdita, who, orphaned at infancy, was long ago brought to Strathgallant by Selina's daughter Isobel, a family friend. Since then, however, naughty Isobel has left her titled English husband and run away with a Frenchman, so Selina has groomed Perdita as the heir who'll be responsible for preserving Strathgallant. A husband for Perdita is thus a necessity, of course. And Selina produces four eligibles--all her grand-nephews, all unaware that Perdita will inherit a fortune, and all invited to stay at Strathgallant for Perdita's birthday ball. Three, in fact, arrive: somber lawyer Jamie, who can cut up on occasion; huge, gentle soldier Colin; and sensitive Alex, who arrives with his formidable mother (who ""booms and squeaks""). The absent fourth nephew, Alex's arrogant twin brother Harry, does eventually make an appearance, hurling infuriating remarks at Perdita about auction-block marriages. Perdita, however, falls in love with Jamie first, then Colin, then (perhaps) Alex. And complications set in with the arrival of charming Frenchman Jules, who claims to be Selina's grandson. Is he or isn't he? (Marianne produces letters suggesting he's a sham.) Worse yet, it's becoming unnervingly obvious that Perdita's suitors have more at stake than her sweet self. So, after an initially glorious birthday ball (the Countess dances in her Bathchair pushed by a whimpering Carmichael), there are two murders, an abduction, a rape attempt . . . and Jules and Perdita are stuffed down a well. Ultimately, however, Carmichael proves herself a fox at detection, Harry shows well in the stretch, and Perdita finds true love. Despite a final muddle of Who and Why--a sunny, cock-a-hoop entertainment.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981