When the widowed Duchess of Tremaine is accused of fraud by her husband’s heir, she finds an unexpected ally in Henry Lowell, who wants to help her save the hospital she’s built to take care of London’s poor.
Viola Cartwright, Duchess of Tremaine, has spent her inheritance building a hospital that caters to London’s poor, with the help of Dr. Florian Lowell. Viola married the duke on his deathbed, then honored his oft-discussed intentions for the hospital. In fact, Viola was the daughter of the duke’s physician, a dear friend who’d saved the duke’s infant son, Robert. When Viola’s father died, the duke took her in, and as a teen, she’d fallen in love with Robert, who’d seduced her then cruelly tossed her aside. After being abroad for years, Robert returns home and accuses Viola of stealing his inheritance, hiring a barrister to recoup the fortune. Viola’s business partner, Florian, is traveling with his wife, but his brother, Henry, steps in to lend help and moral support. Hiring her own barrister doesn’t solve the problem, and secrets about Viola’s background damage her credibility, but Henry becomes increasingly devoted to her. Meanwhile, it seems Robert has a number of horrifying secrets of his own and some powerful enemies who might make him regret the choice to go after Viola. Barnes’ (When Love Leads to Scandal, 2019, etc.) most recent Diamonds in the Rough title has a lively storyline but is bogged down by imprecise writing; a lack of internal conflict (Henry falls for Viola immediately, and they don’t have any reasonable barriers to a relationship); a villain of ridiculous, mustache-twirling proportions; and too many instances of characters asking themselves why they’re doing something or characters doing things that make readers wonder why.
At times engaging but also variously careening and cumbersome.