The Third Rule of Scoundrels
Heat Factor: Simmering
Character Chemistry: Sizzling
Plot: You ruined my life, and now I will have my revenge!
Overall: Well executed, but I couldn’t get over the initial premise
Twelve years ago, Mara literally ruined Temple’s life. This is not an exaggeration for dramatic purposes. The night before she was meant to marry Temple’s father, she picked Temple up in the garden, brought him to her room, drugged him, left him in her bed covered with blood, and disappeared. Even though there was no body, from then on out everyone assumed that he killed her, and he has been shunned by society.
Now Mara needs the money that her brother lost in Temple’s Evil Casino, so she reveals herself to him and offers to openly return to society and clear his name in exchange for the debt. Temple is (justifiably) furious, and so the game of revenge begins.
The conflict centers on the tension inherent in the question of whether or not what Mara did was unforgivable. Obviously, they both eventually get to the point where they agree that the answer is no. For me, however, the answer is that what Mara did might just be unforgivable; so in the moments where Mara is angsting about how she deserves all of Temple’s scorn and he shouldn’t be nice to her, I was mostly like: “Yup. No sympathy here, lady.” As you might imagine, I had a hard time connecting to the characters.
Part of my disconnect is that the mitigating information that Mara offers in her defense makes things worse. Primarily, I refer to the fact that she thought Temple was a footman or stable hand. So while that does take care of the ick factor of framing / boning her fiancé’s son, there is the unexamined fact that if a footman had been caught in her bed, covered in her blood, the consequences would have been MUCH worse. Temple’s life was ruined, but he was still protected by his status. A footman might well have been hanged.
Another part of my disconnect is that Mara is not all that apologetic. She apologizes – kinda – but she refuses to tell Temple what actually happened (she drugged him so he doesn’t remember). And acts like she’s doing Temple some kind of favor by righting the wrong she committed, but only if he pays her. I’m getting all worked up writing about it, so let’s stop talking about Mara.
Instead, let’s talk about Temple for a minute. He is an interesting Duke, not because he’s also a boxer, but because MacLean draws on a bunch of standard (overdone?) Duke tropes while also subverting them. This tension does call into question (for me, at least) who actually ruined Temple’s life – perhaps he did some of the ruining himself.
Take, for example, Temple’s overdeveloped sense of responsibility. In this case, the responsibility does not manifest itself in paternalistic care for others, but rather in wracking guilt. He feels responsible for Mara’s death; even though he has no memory of it, it assumes it must have happened because he’s a brute. So the whole responsibility dynamic means that he self-reinforces everything negative that others believe of him.
Ok, so maybe this is a little half-baked. But honestly, since there was no body (or any evidence of foul play other than a copious amount of blood in a very small space), the fact that everyone immediately jumped to murder most foul is kinda dumb. Like maybe, if Temple had stuck to his guns and proclaimed his innocence and not taken responsibility, his life wouldn’t have been ruined. And if Temple weren’t so dumb and so intent on taking on responsibility, I maybe wouldn’t have hated Mara so much, and her return from the land of the missing would have been based on a better power dynamic between them. And maybe I would have liked the book more. Maybe.
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