When Susannah Makepeace's kind, but distant father dies, leaving behind him nothing but debt, Susannah's engagement to a young gentleman is broken, and she has to move in with a distant cousin in the little village of Barnstable. She's barely arrived before she runs into the notorious Viscount Whitelaw, diving naked into a pond mere feet away from where she is sketching.
Kit Whitelaw is a spy, but his somewhat scandalous personal life of late has forced his father to present him with a choice. Spend a month on the family's country estate putting together a natural science folio, with sketches of flora and fauna, or find himself on the next ship to Egypt. Kit would much rather figure out why his friend James Makepeace died under mysterious circumstances, so it's a happy coincidence, when he realizes that Makepeace's daughter is in Barnstable. The girl keeps having near fatal accidents, and it's clear that someone wants her out of the way. But why?
I'm a huge fan of Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green
books. This is one of her earlier novels, published in 2008. It's the first in a series of three, featuring the three daughters of a politician who is murdered in the very first chapter of this novel. His mistress flees to the Continent, as she is being framed for his murder, and the politician's friend, James Makepeace, takes it upon himself to find homes for his friends' daughters, so they are safe from the unscrupulous man who killed their father. Susannah is the youngest of the three daughters, and grows up never realising that Makepeace isn't her real dad.
It's obvious that Long has developed a lot as a writer since she wrote this book. It's in no way a bad book, but I found the villain in particular rather tedious, and it would have been a more enjoyable book if it hadn't been made obvious from the start that the man suspected of all these dastardly deeds was actually guilty. I also found the many botched attempts to off Susannah a bit samey after a while, and it took me a while to actually grow sympathetic to her. She starts the book as rather spoiled and whiny, but luckily realises how lucky she has been, and that while the man who raised her both physically and emotionally distant to her for much of her life, she still grew up in luxury, with a stunning wardrobe, a nice house and servants. She never had to light her own fire, or cook her own meals, or go without meat because the household accounts were meagre.
While this book is called Beauty and the Spy, there was sadly very little actual spy stuff in it. It's more of a mystery, where the reader knows full well who the villain is, and the hapless couple have to figure it out, while slowly falling in love along the way. We keep being told what a great spy Kit is, but most of the book is him sulking because he's not allowed to have a mistress in London, and trying to figure out a way to keep his father from banishing him to Egypt. In between saving Susannah's life and trying to prove who killed her adopted (and biological) dad.
A perfectly good holiday read, but not in any way up to the standards of Long's later books.