Brandon Wycroft, Earl of Stockport, and the investors in his proposed textile mill have been plagued by a cat-burgler who is bent on shutting down their venture. One night, as Brandon and his colleagues are meeting, the burglar strikes his own home. When he corners the crafty creature, he discovers that the person who has plagued his project is a woman–and a very sexy one who is willing to use her wiles to escape. Frustrated in more than one way, Brandon swears to discover the identity of the desirable woman he dubs “Cat.”
Meanwhile, Nora (the heroine’s true name) is on a mission of mercy: disguised under a wig, thick glasses, and unflattering clothes, she presents herself to society as Miss Eleanor Habersham, a brainless, gossipy spinster. Through her thefts, she feeds and clothes the hungry residents of the Manchester tenements–as she has been doing for several years, travelling from city to city. She sees no other future for herself after a tragic marriage to a criminal husband whom she has not seen in seven years.
Unfortunately, this time her disguise is not fool-proof. Brandon begins to pierce Cat’s carefully constructed disguise and uncover her secret network. In the process, he learns the truth of her thievery: that it is for charity and not personal profit. He also discovers the darker side of industrialization, altering his understanding of the consequences of the new economic ventures. At the same time, Nora begins to grasp the fact that the textile mill could benefit the local community.
In the past, I have complained about Harlequin Historical’s tendency to have characters immediately feel an extraordinary degree of reciprocated sexual desire, even when the setting does not warrant it. In Pickpocket Countess, Scott justifies this gambit by giving Nora a strong motivation to seduce Brandon: she must escape before he alerts his guards.
The scenes between the protagonists, depending on whether Nora is playing Cat or Eleanor, are sensual and amusing. Scott gives her characters opportunities to grow, even as they play an elaborate and ever more dangerous game with each other.
In terms of “Character Chemistry,” I have rated this book “Steamy” because I enjoy Brandon and Nora’s interactions. However, I do have reservations about their viability as a long-term couple: the differences in class, their ramshackle engagement, and her criminal background make the likelihood of marriage into the peerage slim. Although I can imagine the characters coming together in a more contemporary setting, it is difficult for me to believe it in a Regency.
I appreciate that the author concentrates on the hero and heroine, refraining from diluting her novel with too many secondary characters. Of course, the book includes a dyed-in-the-wool “bad guy” to balance out Nora’s more innocuous criminal activity. Due to this character and his machinations, there is one attempted-rape scene that could earn a “trigger warning” for Pickpocket Countess. Fortunately, it does not go far.
Bronwyn Scott has done well enough with Pickpocket Countess. I read the book in one evening during a bout of insomnia. Frankly, during the first read (with my bleary eyes), I found the plot to be implausible. Be prepared for inaccuracies and highly-unlikely circumstances, especially considering the era. If you are a stickler for accuracy, you may not like this book.
However, I am a sucker for dual-identity heroes. My all-time favorite character is Sir Percy Blakeney from The Scarlet Pimpernel. As I refreshed my memory for this review, I thought Scott’s book was stronger than I had recalled. Though not the best Regency I have read, Pickpocket Countess is decent.