So this Scottish lady Marion Chesney wrote a whole bunch of books – mysteries, romances, what have you, using a bunch of pseudonyms. As M. C. Beaton, she wrote the Poor Relations series, which I guess can be classified as Regency romance/comedy of manners. I’ll review all six of them here, because there’s a through line that carries the entire series, plus the plot of each book follows pretty much the same formula and there’s no sense in writing the same thing six times with a few name changes.
Lady Fortescue: Widowed, alone, and poor. She owns a home, but she can’t pay her servants. She relies on visits to her wealthy relatives for food and maybe for some things she can sell to support herself. Until she gets caught stealing from a nephew, that is.
Colonel Sandhurst: A retired army officer, who passes out from hunger in front of Lady Fortescue. She helps him, and gets the idea that people like them – genteel but poor – should band together and support each other. He moves in to Lady F’s house and they cruise the park looking for others to join them.
Mrs. Budley: A very beautiful, but not in any way bright, widow. Her husband died leaving her deeply in debt. The duns are at the door. Lady F thinks she’s too young and pretty, but the Colonel persists and she moves in, bringing a bunch of furniture with her, which helps fill the empty rooms in the house.
Miss Tonks: Poor Miss Tonks. Poor spinster, possibly screwed out of a marriage and her inheritance by her nasty sister. The poor relations find her in the park shouting to the sky “I am one of life’s worms!” She has nothing to contribute (yet), but they take her in.
Harriet James: She had been in society, did a London season and everything. Then her parents died, leaving her with nothing. She disappeared, leaving behind a very interested suitor. Who, coincidentally, is Lady F’s nephew.
And Sir Philip Sommerville: He’s a dirty old man, in just about every sense of the phrase. Stinky, poor, lecherous, jerky, and an expert at stealing from his wealthy relations.
After everyone moves in, Sir Philip comes up with the idea that they should turn the house into a hotel, with the “poor relations” working there as a novelty. It takes some convincing, but everyone agrees, and the plan is set in motion.
Pretty much the same thing happens in each book, and each book features a different one of the poor relations.
Book 1: Lady Fortescue Steps Out: The gang comes together, the hotel opens, with some help from theft. Lady F’s nephew appears, and reconnects with Harriet James. Another society lady wants him for herself, plots revenge. There are a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. People fall in love, Harriet and the nephew get married, and everything comes right in the end.
Book 2: Miss Tonks Turns to Crime: Truth in advertising. Miss Tonks goes to see her sister and also to steal from her. She tries to be a highwayman, but instead gets busted by the handsome neighbor who the nasty sister is trying to marry to her daughter. Hijinks ensue, and the niece decides to run away to London with Miss Tonks. There is competition with other hotels, possible sabotage, and of course mishaps, misunderstandings, and people falling in love. This time Miss Tonks’ niece and the handsome neighbor. And everything comes right in the end.
Book 3: Mrs. Budley Falls From Grace: It’s Miss Budley’s turn to visit a rich relation (or in this case, pretend to be related to the rich person) and steal from him. Except instead of the doddering old Marquess of Peterhouse, it’s his young, sharp nephew. Poor Mrs. Budley is not sharp in any way, and confesses all. Instead of tossing her out, the Marquess keeps her around because she’s a breath of fresh air, and charming company. She returns to London, but not before she’s fallen in love with him (and he with her?). He heads to London for the Season, and is pursued by all the eligible young ladies. There continues to be competition with other hotels, especially since the “Poor Relation” hotel is making a name for itself with a great chef. There are mishaps, misunderstandings, and people fall in love. This time it’s Mrs. Budley and the Marquess, of course. And everything comes right in the end.
Book 4: Sir Philip’s Folly: Gross old Sir Philip, who has been the prime troublemaker and fixer in all of the books, brings home some freaky chick that everyone hates and who is probably just using him. Well, definitely. Lady Carruthers checks in with her daughter Arabella. Lady C is a Regency cougar, and forces Arabella to dress and act younger than she is, so that Lady C won’t feel old. Lady C is on the prowl for a husband; so is Arabella, which is tough, because her mother isn’t letting her be “out.” Both ladies fall for the Earl of Denby. There are mishaps, misunderstandings, and people fall in (and out of) love. And everything comes right in the end.
Book 5: Colonel Sandhurst to the Rescue: An heiress runs away from home to escape an arranged marriage, and is taken in by the poor relations. Unbeknownst to her, they are also holding her for ransom because her father owes them money. She falls in love with another guest, while her erstwhile fiance (who has come to London to find her and win her) thinks he’s romancing her when in fact he’s romancing a chamber maid. See if you can guess what happens, and how it all ends up.
Book 6: Back in Society: The last book in the series. The poor relations help Lady Jane Fremney, who has been cast out after refusing to marry who her dad picked. They take her under their wings, and Harriet James (now Duchess of Rowcester) helps out by bringing Lady Jane into society (incognito). There are spies, assassination attempts, hijinks, mishaps, misunderstandings, falling in love, and marriages. And everything comes right in the end.
There is nothing remarkable about this series of books. They’re written well enough, although they are incredibly predictable. What they are is entertaining little puff pastries that do a fantastic job of helping one forget the troubles of the day. I highly recommend, especially if you’re a fan of Regency romance type things.