cover image The Valet’s Secret

The Valet’s Secret

Josi S. Kilpack. Shadow Mountain, $15.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-62972-989-3

With a dozen period romances under her belt, Kilpack (the Mayfield Family series) should have better mastery of her setting than this sloppy outing demonstrates. From lace cuffs to gaslights and polo playing, the purported details of 1819 life appear randomly drawn from 150 years of British culture. The setup is a tricky but appealing trope: an upper-class man pretends to be a commoner and unexpectedly falls in love. Kenneth Winterton is the imposter, the presumptive heir to an earl. Dressed as his own valet to better enjoy a bruising cross-country ride, he encounters Mrs. Rebecca Parker, a brick mason’s widow, and impulsively kisses her. The attraction’s mutual, and Rebecca, who’s back living with her abusive father, hopes “Malcolm” will be her savior. These are dashed when she is called in as extra help at a dinner party and discovers the purported valet sitting among the guests. The tricky bit, of course, is disentangling the lovers from the foundational lie. Unfortunately, their path out is no more plausible than the setting, with the disparity between their social statuses waved away. Even as pure wish fulfillment, there’s not enough here to get readers invested. The impression left is of a paint-by-number schematic haphazardly filled in by a dabbler who’s lost the color guide. (Mar.)