- Title: The Infamous Duchess
- Series: Diamonds in the Rough
- Author: Sophie Barnes
- Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 1/12/2020
**Spoiler Alert** I enjoy good historical fiction, but I’ve never really read that much Regency Romance – it all seemed so predictable: boy meets girl or girl meets boy, they are perfect for each other but have issues, those issues get resolved, and in the end, they end up together. Sigh. But, when you think about it – a lot of genre fiction as a certain formula to it – the detective solves the crime, the superheroes defeat the villain, etc. etc. so dismissing something as genre shouldn’t be the “insult” it often is. Besides I really enjoyed reading The Infamous Duchess and it even got me out of my funk from the holidays, work, and the weather crashing in on me at the same time. So a book that I liked that made me feel better? In my book, that’s a good thing.
Viola Cartwright, Duchess of Tremaine – wasn’t always a Duchess or even a member of the Aristocracy and therein lies her problem. The daughter of a doctor who was a private physician to a Duke and his family, Viola grew up in the Duke’s household but not really a part of it. She became friends with the Duke’s son, but then he took advantage of her when she was 16 – an event Viola has blamed herself for years. Fortunately, the elderly Duke of Tremaine isn’t the cad his son is – he sends his son off to a British colony in Africa or someplace and marries Viola, making her a Duchess. He also changes his will to leave everything to Viola, because he’s become estranged from his family, especially his son.
Once the elderly Duke dies, Viola buys a small house for herself, sharing it with two former prostitutes she met through her good works and charity. However, unlike many others of her class – she doesn’t look down on the unfortunate women, but genuinely wants to help them and she becomes friends with them. But her main project is a hospital to help London’s poor. She starts the hospital, hires the staff, and works as a nurse (her father had trained her as a doctor but because she’s a woman she is not able to attend university to get an official degree and certification). Fortunately, the main doctor at her hospital, Florian Lowell, judges Viola by her abilities, not her gender – which is part of why Viola hired him. As the story opens, Viola’s hospital is doing well enough that she’s able to open a second location, a day spa, modeled on the health spas in Bath, where the rich can go to be pampered and looked after. The spa is meant to provide income for the hospital so it can be self-sufficient instead of depending on donations.
The story opens with Florian’s brother, Henry Lowell, being brought in after a duel. Henry is a notorious rake – yet Viola and Henry get along well from the very beginning. He’s kind to her and realizes she’s been hurt in the past, whereas from the beginning, Viola notices that Henry seems to be kinder, more preceptive, and less of a cad than rumor would lead her to believe. Besides Viola knows firsthand how vicious and unfounded the rumors of bored aristocrats can be. Once Henry is released from her hospital, she and he run into each other over and over again – often with good results. Meanwhile, Florian and his wife head to Paris for a long-deserved and planned vacation.
But every story needs a villain, and in The Infamous Duchess that villain is Robert, now Duke of Tremaine, who failed to become successful in whatever colony his father banished him to, and who’s wife died there under mysterious circumstances. Also, Henry had known Robert at school, and they had been friends (something Viola finds disturbing) though their friendship had cooled over the years. Robert returns to London, threatens to take Viola to court and demands his inheritance back. Told the money was invested in the charity hospital and the spa – Robert coldly tells Viola, he’ll just take the hospital from her then and sell it.
Robert not only gets himself a barrister who specializes in “getting back” inheritances – but the two also bribe a judge to rule in his favor. Henry helps Viola to obtain a good barrister and looks into Robert’s past – remembering a scandal that Robert had roughed-up a “lady of the evening”. He also finds considerable proof that Robert probably returned and killed a young woman in St Giles – a notorious slum. Despite sympathetic police, testimony from another lower-class woman, and information from the dead girl’s parents that she wasn’t a prostitute – the police refuse to prosecute a Duke when all they have are “rumors” and the testimony of “unsavory” people (including a gangland boss). The judge in Viola’s case won’t even let her present the information that Robert may have killed someone. Henry also attempts to get information about the death of Robert’s wife – but the evidence that he killed her and bribed a corrupt cop to get away with it arrives too late to save Viola.
Viola and Henry, meanwhile, have become close – and married, which should have protected Viola’s assets, since by the laws of the time they became her husband’s property. However, the judge still rules for Robert and takes the hospital from Viola. It’s quickly sold. But the person who bought it is the gangland boss who feels indebted to Henry for trying to get justice for the girl Robert killed and to Viola for building a hospital to help London’s poor in the first place. He returns the hospital to Viola as a gift, so the hospital belongs to her husband, Henry, now. It’s not clear if Robert was able to take a controlling interest in the spa or not because the other main investor is Florian, Henry’s brother and the surgeon at Viola’s hospital.
With the hospital safe, Henry and Viola honeymoon in Paris for a month. They return and Robert bursts in on them, attacking Henry and nearly killing him. Viola shoots Robert in self-defense but fails to kill him. Both Henry and Robert end up at Viola’s hospital and both survive their injuries. Now, however, Robert has attempted to kill Henry – who is now a Viscount and due to become an Earl when his father passes. Attempted murder of an Earl’s son is considered much more serious than the deaths of two women – and finally, Robert is sentenced to death. No mention is made of what happens to the money and property he took from Viola or even who would inherit his title.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Infamous Duchess. It was a fun, light read, but it was nice to read something knowing it would all work out in the end and that the book would have a happy ending. But the story also had a nice mix of traditionally romantic scenes: Viola and Henry dancing at the opening of her day spa, their trip to the seaside, with more action-oriented scenes – Viola meeting Henry when he shows up on Florian’s operating table, a second duel at dawn between Henry and Robert, Henry’s investigation into the truth about Robert – that frustratingly, they can’t use against him. It’s a great story, and it was enjoyable to read. It also appears to be part of a series, with brief references to “difficulties” in Florian and his wife getting together and a hint that the gangland boss with a heart of gold would get his story next. Recommended.