If Tavy and Jago had been solving a mystery together with some other chums and a dog instead of being all romantical, it would have been perfect. (Includes a recap in the style of Enid Blyton.)
An advance reading copy of this book was generously provided by Harlequin Australia.
There’s always something vaguely old school about Sara Craven’s books. In the last one I read, it was like an old skool bodice ripper of the rape-iest kind, and it was totally horrifying. This one was… kind of the opposite. I’m not even sure why it’s been published in the ‘Sexy’ line. (There is sex in it, but it’s right at the end, and it’s pretty euphemistic.) Seduction Never Lies feels kind of like it was written in the 1940s or 50s than the 2010s. It’s basically an Enid Blyton book.
In fact, maybe I can rewrite it as an Enid Blyton book. (Spoilers, obvs.)
Chapter One — A Strange Occurrence
Octavia Denison didn’t know what to do about the wicked Mrs Wilding she worked for at the village school. She was simply horrid.
But there was nothing a plucky young girl like she was could do about that right now. No, she had to be a jolly good sport about all this—not like one of those nasty gypsy folk that kept parking their caravans on the ground of Ladysmere, the abandoned mansion nearby!* And so Tavy kept pedalling the pedals on her old bicycle. No use dwelling on that nonsense when there was work to be done! Her beloved papa was the village vicar, and he relied on her to deliver the village newsletter.**
‘Hello, Tavy,’ Fiona Culham said, pulling up alongside her in her fine motor car. ‘Whatever are you doing?’
Fiona was the worst sort of girl: all interested in hair and makeup and not a jolly good sport at all.*** Tavy answered politely and kept peddling.
It was a hot day, a real Indian summer, and so Tavy stopped, parked her bike outside Ladysmere, and peered inside. No one had lived here for an age. Surely no one would mind if she took a quick swim in the lake…?
But—oh blast! She hadn’t got her swimming costume!
Never mind, thought Tavy, for she was a plucky English girl of the first water. Swimming with no clothes on might be dreadfully naughty, but surely only if someone saw you.
The water was cool and refreshing, just like a glass of lemonade at high tea. Tavy ducked under and got her long red hair all wet. But then, when she emerged, she did get a nasty surprise!
‘What are you doing here?’ she asked.
This man did not look like a good sort of chap at all. Instead, he looked like a Dark Lord.****
‘I could ask you the same thing,’ he said.
Tavy turned up her nose. He was clearly one of those dirty gypsy folk, and she was a good English girl who did not associate with those types. ‘Please go away so I can put my clothes back on,’ she said haughtily. ‘Or I’ll tell everyone that you were trespassing.’
He left. What a rotter, Tavy thought, hurriedly getting dressed again. She’d better never go swimming here again, even if it was jolly good fun.
* For realsies. There’s a disparaging (and racist) reference to gypsies, although they’re euphemistically called ‘travellers’.
** Even Tavy wonders why he doesn’t just email it and spare her all this backbreaking labour.
*** Also, Fiona’s a divorcee, which Tavy finds OMG SCANDALOUS.
**** Bit about him looking like a Dark Lord verbatim. Obviously I immediately pictured him looking like a cross between Sauron and Voldemort—no nose, one large fiery eye.
Chapter Two — A Most Uncomfortable Luncheon
When Tavy arrived home to the Vicarage, her father the vicar was polishing off the remains of a rather scrummy looking ginger cake. ‘Fresh from the president of the WI!’ he declared cheerfully.* ‘How was your day, darling? Did you get into any scrapes? Solve any mysteries with some other plucky young things and a dog?’
‘No,’ Tavy said, getting the peculiar feeling she was not being entirely honest.
‘I say,’ said the wicked Mrs Wilding the next day, when Tavy was working her fingers to the bone for a few pence. ‘Have you heard? Someone has moved into Ladysmere at last!’
‘Who is it?’ asked Patrick, Mrs Wilding’s son and Tavy’s special chum.**
‘I hear,’ Mrs Wilding said, leaning in conspirationally, ‘that he’s—oh blast, what’s the word? A rock star. Involved in all kinds of scurrilous behaviours. It just won’t do.’
‘Hello, pet,’ Tavy’s father said, walking into the kitchen. ‘I see you’ve made a scrumptious English feast for lunch, as usual! That’s lucky, because wouldn’t you know, we have a guest.’
‘Oh my!’ Tavy said. She was terribly excited to have a guest. It was a rare occurrence in this sleepy little village (unlike mysteries, which happened all the time, only to be solved by a group of plucky young things and a dog).
And wouldn’t you know, that rotten old gypsy from yesterday walked right into her kitchen!
She couldn’t very well refuse to serve him lunch—she was English, after all—but she jolly well didn’t have to be nice about it!
* Like, actually
** Boyfriend. But I don’t know what the Enid Blyton equivalent is.
Chapter Three — Not A Rotten Old Gypsy At All!
The rotten old gypsy’s name was Jago Marsh, and wouldn’t you know, he wasn’t a gypsy at all, but the rock star the wicked Mrs Wilding had been talking about! Though gypsies and rock stars might be the same thing. Tavy had only travelled outside of Hazleton Magna once in her life, for the few months she was at university, before she had to come home and keep house for her poor widowed papa. Rock stars travelled a lot, and she didn’t think she held with that. You might run into Johnny Foreigner.
But still, he did seem to have a good appetite, and had second helpings of the delicious wholesome English food she’d prepared. That was why, when he asked her to come to dinner with him to a frightfully expensive restaurant, she could scarcely think of refusing.
‘What a dreadful fellow,’ she said to her papa, when Jago had left.
‘Really?’ her papa said absently. ‘I thought he was rather jolly.’
Jago sent a limousine to take her to the restaurant. He wasn’t in it, and Tavy was rather glad about that. She never would have appreciated how smashing the motor car was if she’d had to worry about him being in it.
He met her out the front of the restaurant, and she had to admit that he looked pretty scrummy. But still, she told herself, she’d much rather be at home eating cold chicken and playing cribbage with her papa.*
* Like, actually.
Chapter Four — A Fine To-Do
The food was delicious (and suitably English). As they ate, Jago told her all about his plans for expanding and restoring Ladysmere. Even Tavy had to admit that his plans sounded wizard.
She was rather astonished when she saw that Patrick, the wicked Mrs Wilding, and that horrid Fiona were having dinner across the room. But why shouldn’t they? It wasn’t as if they were doing anything untoward. But when the wicked Mrs Wilding fixed her with a glare, Tavy knew she was in trouble.
‘I rather think I’m going to be out of a job on Monday,’ Tavy said pluckily. ‘I don’t think my boss is very pleased that I’m here with you.’
‘I rather got the feeling she didn’t think I was the right sort of chap,’ Jago said. ‘I’ve never once solved a mystery with a bunch of plucky youngsters and a dog.’
When Jago dropped her off in his fine motor car, Tavy made herself some hot cocoa and went directly to bed. It didn’t help her the next day, however, when Patrick got himself into a frightful state over her dining companion.
‘He’s not the right sort,’ he told her. ‘You know that.’
‘Neither is Fiona,’ retorted Tavy, who could be a regular little spitfire when she put her mind to it. ‘You know that.’
The wicked Mrs Wilding was similarly unimpressed. ‘I’m shocked,’ she said. ‘Who knows what those rock stars get up to? It certainly can’t be wholesome.’
But June Jackson, Ted the surveyor’s wife, had a different opinion. ‘What a fine chum you have!’ she said to Tavy. ‘He seems like quite a nice fellow.’
Chapter Five — Too Much Ginger Beer
Patrick and Tavy were having a fine old time drinking ginger beer* in the garden**when who should turn up but Jago and that horrid Fiona! I knew he wasn’t a decent chap at all, Tavy thought, because only rotters were pals with that horrid Fiona.
Fiona put a song on the gramophone*** that happened to be by Jago’s band. Tavy didn’t like it at all. Being a vicar’s daughter, she only really liked hymns.
Patrick and Fiona went off to get more ginger beer. ‘I went to school with an old chum of Fiona’s****,’ Jago remarked. ‘That’s why I brought her here.’
‘Oh,’ Tavy said. School did seem a proper place to get to know someone.
Their conversation was interrupted by Patrick, who’d had far too much ginger beer and was now frightfully ill. That led to Tavy, that horrid Fiona and Jago all being squished in the back of Jago’s motor car while he saw them all home.
‘Oh, you’re renovating the old mansion?’ Fiona said. ‘How smashing. You must get rid of that frightful lake.’
‘I rather fancy the lake,’ Jago said.
Fiona got dropped home first, leaving Tavy and Jago alone. ‘You are dreadful,’ Tavy said to him, unsure quite why he was dreadful.
‘Is that so?’ Jago said. ‘I’d better do something dreadful quick smart then. I’d hate for you to be proven wrong.’*****
**** Fiona’s ex-husband
***** Then he kisses her, but I’m not quite sure how to Enid Blyton that one up
Chapter Six — A Mysterious Bouquet
The wicked Mrs Wilding sent Tavy to work at the library the next day. She was done with all her jobs quick smart (she was a top girl, after all) and so she did a little research on Jago and his band. She gasped. ‘What a lot of old nonsense he got up to!’ she exclaimed.* She wasn’t sure any of those things would even be possible in Hazleton Magna.
She went back to the office and started tidying, like any plucky English girl would. However, the wicked Mrs Wilding was not happy. ‘Go home,’ she told Tavy, in a tone not to be disobeyed.
There was a big bunch of flowers on the doorstep when she arrived home at the Vicarage. She phoned Patrick at once. ‘Thank you, they’re lovely,’ she said.
‘I didn’t send flowers.’
Oh, blast. It must have been Jago!
Tavy threw those flowers in the rubbish where they belonged. But they didn’t stay there. ‘Look what I found in the rubbish!’ her dear papa declared, walking into the kitchen where she was busy preparing a good wholesome English meal.
‘I don’t know anything about those,’ Tavy said haughtily.
‘I’ll take them to the church, shall I’ her papa said. ‘They’ll look lovely in the pews. And we could all use a bit of good news, now that the church is practically falling down around our ears’
‘Don’t be silly, Papa,’ Tavy said. ‘It’ll come right, if we just have pluck and determination. That can fix anything. Even rapidly eroding architecture.’
* Booze, sex, drugs, etc.
Chapter Seven — A Jolly Good Cry
Tavy was down in the dumps, because the wicked Mrs Wilding had just told her she was no longer needed to work at the school. How was she to help pay for all the good wholesome English food she and her papa ate now? She’d ride her bicycle into town on Monday and look for a job, but for now, all she wanted was a jolly good cry.
She went into the church. But she wasn’t alone.
‘What are you doing here?’ she asked Jago.
‘Sketching,’ he said. ‘The light in here is wizard, don’t you think? You look dreadfully sad.’
‘I’ve just been fired,’ Tavy said, and burst into tears.
‘There, there,’ Jago said, pulling her into a friendly hug. ‘Buck up, old bean. It’ll come right. You have pluck and determination.’*
* And they make out again.
Chapter Eight – Losing A Chum And Gaining A Job
Tavy drove her father’s old motor car into town the next day. There was something she needed to say to Patrick, but when she saw Fiona driving away from his house, she knew that there was nothing worth saying.
‘Fiona’s my special chum now,’ Patrick said. ‘Sorry, old chap.’
There was only one thing for it. A good wholesome English meal with her dear papa. With new potatoes and apple crumble. Scrummy.*
Afterwards, she went for a walk in the garden. She felt better at once. Nothing a bit of fresh air couldn’t fix.
‘I say, hallo,’ Jago said. ‘Would you like a job?’
‘Well, I’m very busy, and can’t always be looking over the renovations on my house as I’d like. You’d be doing me a huge favour. And I’d pay you well. You’re a simply smashing girl. You deserve it.’
‘All right then,’ Tavy said.
‘Wizard,’ Jago said. ‘You can get the house ready for Barbie. She’s to keep house for me, you see.’
* The meal does indeed involve new potatoes and apple crumble. I’m not just making this up.
Chapter Nine — That Horrid Fiona Again
Tavy was doing smashingly at her new job and was just sitting down with a nice cup of tea when that horrid Fiona turned up. ‘What are you doing here?’ she sneered.
‘My job. What are you doing here?’
‘I have your old job at the school,’ said Fiona, and stalked away.
‘What did she want?’ Jago asked later.
‘I don’t know,’ Tavy said.
‘I’ve heard that she and your Patrick are going to get married,’ Jago said. ‘That must be hard for you, old bean. Let’s have a picnic on the floor. That’ll be an adventure.’
‘Only if the food is wholesome and English,’ Tavy said.
‘My favourite kind,’ said Jago.
Chapter Ten — A Good Sort Of Chap
The food was wholesome and English, and Tavy enjoyed it greatly. It really was jolly good fun, picnicking on the living room floor as if they were outside.
Jago drove her home in his fine motor car. He really was a good sort of chap, Tavy decided.
She kept working hard at her job the next few days, full of pluck and determination. However, that pluck and determination was not having much of an effect on the church. ‘I’m afraid we’re doomed there, pet,’ her father said gloomily. ‘I’ll have to join another ministry in a different town.’
‘And move out of our lovely home?’ Tavy said, aghast.
‘It can’t be helped. I’m going to go and see an old friend in Milcaster to see if anything can be done.’
A few days later, Jago took Tavy with him to a furniture auction at a simply smashing old estate. ‘Everything here is so top notch,’ Tavy said.
‘It is rather, isn’t it?’ Jago said. He bought a dining room table, and then bought her a wizard slap-up (wholesome, English) lunch beside the river.
Chapter Eleven — A Nasty Case Of Poison Pen
‘I do hope Barbie likes your new table,’ Tavy said.
‘I’m sure she will,’ Jago said.
Tavy was absolutely bursting to know who Barbie was—was she Jago’s special chum?—but she bit her tongue. That wasn’t a question that the Right Sort Of Gel asked.
It would be rather nice to have Jago as a special chum, she reflected.
‘I say, I hear the church is in a spot of bother,’ Jago remarked. ‘Why on earth didn’t you tell me?’
Tavy opened her mouth to answer as they pulled up in front of her house, then stopped. ‘Oh my,’ she said.
Someone had written the most dreadful things across the front of the Vicarage in red paint – words that the Right Sort Of Gel didn’t know at all. She felt quite faint.
‘What a nasty case of poison pen,’ Jago said grimly. ‘Come on, old bean, let’s get you inside, and I’ll clean this muck off for you.’
She lay on the sofa as Jago scrubbed the front of her house with detergent. Who could have done such a thing? If only she had some fellow plucky youngsters and a dog to help her solve this mystery.
It must have been that horrid Fiona, she decided. Or Patrick. What nasty pieces of work they were.
‘There, there, old bean,’ Jago said, patting her on the head. ‘It’ll all come right. You have pluck and determination, and they’re just a couple of weak rotters. I’m going to stay here tonight and look after you. Fancy a curry?’
Although it wasn’t the sort of wholesome English meal she normally ate, Tavy found that she enjoyed the curry greatly. Then they watched a Gilbert and Sullivan musical* on the television and they went to bed – though not before Tavy had made herself a mug of cocoa.
* Yes, really.
Chapter Twelve — A Surprising Visitor
Late at night, Tavy made a decision. She wanted Jago to be her special chum. She put on a light summer dressing gown* and went downstairs. ‘I say, Jago,” she said, “don’t you think—wouldn’t it be nice if—‘*
‘Take off your dressing gown, old bean,’ Jago said.
Tavy fled back up the stairs. What was she thinking? He might have been behaving like the right sort of chap now, but how could she forget his past behaviour? He wanted more than her dressing gown, and good English girls did not do that sort of thing.
Besides, he already had a special chum. How could she forget Barbie?
The next morning, Tavy was making a hearty English breakfast when Patrick walked in. ‘I say!’ she exclaimed. ‘What do you mean, just walking into my house like this?’
‘You leave Tavy alone,’ Jago said. ‘I rather think you’re not the right sort of fellow at all, Patrick. Look at what your special chum Fiona did to Tavy’s house. That’s a fine way to behave. My old nanny would wash out her mouth.’***
‘Your friend Jago isn’t such a fine fellow either,’ Patrick said to Tavy. ‘Do you know that his ex-special chum was once special chums with his best friend?’
‘I think it’s time for you to leave,’ Jago said.
Patrick left. So did Jago, soon afterwards, before Tavy could even begin to apologise properly for not being a good sport the night before. Leaving Tavy alone.
Except for her boiled egg.
* Something in the lingerie family
** She asks him to take her virginity, which I obviously cannot put in this G-rated parody
*** Sentence about the nanny paraphrased, but essentially accurate
Chapter Thirteen — A Wonderful Fellow
When her dear papa arrived home, Tavy told him all about the nasty vandalism of their home. He shook his head sadly. ‘Some people are just not the right sort,’ he said. ‘I’m glad neither Patrick nor Fiona were raised in my church.* But I have good news! I have a job in another town. And it comes with a housekeeper.’
‘But whatever will I do without you?’ Tavy exclaimed.
‘Go off into the world and have adventures instead of looking after your old dad,’ her papa said. ‘Now come along. There’s a meeting about the closure of the church, and we can’t be late. That wouldn’t be proper.’
There was quite a gathering at the church. The Archdeacon talked about the necessity of closing the old church, because it would take many thousands of pounds to fix its old leaky roof up. “But what if we repaired it?’ her papa asked.
‘We haven’t the money,’ the Archdeacon said.
‘I have,’ said a voice from the back of the hall.
Tavy gasped. It was Jago!
‘I will pay for the church to be restored,’ Jago said, ‘as long as things stay just as they are.’
‘We can’t accept his money!’ the wicked Mrs Wilding protested. ‘He’s not the right sort of chap at all! Why, look at him! He might as well be Johnny Foreigner! And the larks he’s been getting up to with the vicar’s daughter—well, I never—‘
‘I’d worry about your own son’s behaviour before worrying about the vicar’s daughter,” an old woman said.
‘Who are you?’ the wicked Mrs Wilding snapped.
‘Margaret Barber,’ she replied. ‘Jago’s old nurse. I’m to be his housekeeper.’
So this was Barbie!
‘As for the vicar’s daughter,’ Jago said, ‘she’s simply smashing. Wizard. A jolly good sport. Just the Right Sort Of Gel. Don’t you all agree?’
Tavy was quite astonished when everyone agreed with Jago. And he was going to mend the church! What a wonderful fellow he was!
* Like, actually.
Chapter Fourteen — A Special Chum At Last
The next day, Tavy went to Ladysmere to see Jago to say thank you. ‘That was a splendid thing you did,’ she said.
‘I haven’t done a lot of splendid things in my life,’ he said, and proceeded to tell her a number of the less splendid things he did when he was a rock star.
‘I don’t care a bit,’ Tavy declared. ‘I think you’re smashing.’
‘I think you’re smashing too, old bean,’ Jago said. ‘I say, would you fancy being my special chum?’
‘Would I ever!” Tavy exclaimed.
‘Brilliant,’ Jago said. ‘Let’s have a glass of lemonade* and celebrate.’**
Look, I swear that this parody is not far off the truth. It’s a very charming book, but it’s because of the loving descriptions of village life. The opening reminded me of a time last year when I rode around a village in Surrey helping my grandmother distribute the parish newsletter. And all that wholesome English food, well… it makes you hungry. And they eat ALL THE TIME.
But the sexual tension between Tavy and Jago is pretty much non-existent. There is about the same amount of tension between them in this parody as in the book. There are way too many peripheral characters taking up space, and it takes way too much away from the central romance. Tavy is fairly well-drawn, but we never get much of a clear picture of Jago. And his rock star past just becomes a total non-issue—which, of course, contributes to the Blyton-esque feel of the book.
Also, WTF does ‘Seduction Never Lies’ even mean?
Yay or nay?
I kind of loved it, but not for the romance. If Tavy and Jago had been solving a mystery together with some other chums and a dog instead of being all romantical, it would have been perfect.
Who might enjoy it: People who enjoy long, loving descriptions of wholesome English food
Who might not enjoy it: People who like actual romance in their romance