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A ROGUE’S COMPANY by Allison Montclair: Book Review

The joint owners of the Right Sort Marriage Bureau are as different, as the British expression goes, as chalk and cheese.

Iris Sparks, dark and petite, is single, worked for an unnamed government agency during the Second World War, had several love affairs, and is currently single but sexually involved with a mid-level gangster.

Gwendolyn Bainbridge, tall and blonde, is the widow of an army officer and mother of six-year-old Ronnie, who is the heir to the Bainbridge family fortune.  Heartbroken by the death of her young husband, Gwen spent a year in a sanatorium, held there against her will due to the influence of her father-in-law Lord Bainbridge, who has been given custody of her young son.

Lord Bainbridge’s return from Africa has put the entire household in a turmoil as he makes everyone from the lowliest housemaid to his wife unhappy and on edge.  And something is taking him out of the house and to his club every night, even on his first night home after six months away, something he refuses to explain.

Although it was Gwen’s late husband’s express wish that their son not be sent to St. Frideswide’s, the boarding school all the male Bainbridges attended, Lord Bainbridge is insistent that the boy be sent there.  Unfortunately for both Gwen and Ronnie, the boy’s grandfather has complete control over Ronnie’s care and eduction until Gwen’s psychiatrist certifies that she is completely recovered from the breakdown over her husband’s death, something the doctor is not willing to do, at least not yet.

There is a lot going on in the lives of Gwen and Iris, both in their private lives and their professional lives.  While Gwen is trying to deal with her antagonistic father-in-law, Iris is trying to come to terms with her past career in espionage and the rather unsavory affairs she had at that time.

Both women are attempting to make their business venture a success.   Working together at their nascent match-making bureau, the women meet a new client, Mr. Daile.  He has arrived in England after serving in the Royal British Navy during the war, and he tells Iris and Gwen he wishes to meet a good Christian woman with proper values who is willing to live in a rural community in England or elsewhere.  Perhaps even in Nyasaland, his home country, for Mr. Daile is the agency’s first African client, as well as its first non-white one.

Gwen is bothered by her feeling that Mr. Daile seems to be everywhere she is.  Once could be a coincidence, she thinks, but the second or third time she is seriously unnerved by the man and his motorcycle.  When she confides her feelings to her partner, Iris secretly contacts her boyfriend to see what he can find out about their new client.

Although the book takes place more than seventy years ago, there is a timelessness about Iris and Gwen.  Both are living through a period of unprecedented change that has come about after World War II.  It includes new opportunities for women but still encumbers them with the stereotypes they hoped had been left behind.

Allison Montclair is the pseudonym of an author who has written fantasy, horror, and science fiction.  You can read more about her at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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