August 6, 2012
What’s the harm in a little white lie?
Especially when it could carry so much good—a new life for a wounded soldier, catharsis after long years of war, and an opportunity for lady composer Olivia Delancey to finally hear her music played in public.
Newspaper publisher Will Marsh refuses to compound the sins of his father’s generation by taking money to print propaganda. But with the end of the wars in France and America, he needs something new to drive Londoners to grab his paper first. Why not publish the score of the “Tune That Took Waterloo,” by a wounded vet, no less?
As Olivia struggles to keep her secrets from this unsuitably alluring publisher, and Will fights to find the truth without losing his hold on this bright-eyed angel who has descended into his life, both discover another sort of truth.
Being the talk of London can be bad—or very, very good.
What can be done post-Waterloo when soldiers are scattered about the streets of London and lying shattered in the wards of its hospitals with little or no future? And, there’s love to be saved?
Improvise then, lie.
But all for a good cause. And that’s the clever premise of Nicky Penttila’s newest novel, ‘A Note of Scandal.’ With a well-drawn cast of characters who aptly represent and execute the story’s plots and subplots, Penttila draws readers into the music halls, publishing offices, half-empty estates and festering hospital wards where machinations of all sorts are afoot and interwoven creating a story that makes readers want to cheer, revolt, weep and hope.
Olivia Delancey is the talented, kind-hearted, overlooked and ultimately frustrated daughter given up for spinster hood by her annoyingling selfish and negligent parents set upon selling everything in order to curry favor and win her father a seat in Parliament. Thrown over by cousin Richard Avery for Spanish wife, Rosa, Olivia refocuses her efforts in her secret music composing which proves a beginning and end for her and the friend (Lt. Martin Purdy) whom she tries to help by it.
Lt. Martin Purdy, the broken but good-natured soldier who played Olivia’s tune– a military march said to inspire on the battlefield at Waterloo – The Tune That Took Waterloo – is smitten with Merry Buckham but the only chance of marrying her is to have money. Something hard to come by amongst the thousands of veterans now unemployed. Spurned by her fiancée, Olivia still believes in the cause of love and is willing to help others achieve what has eluded her. So Olivia offers Martin a plan. Following a conversation about how he played one of her tunes on the battlefield at Waterloo, Olivia unleashes an plan that she hopes will help them both – sell Martin’s compelling story of playing, The Tune That Took Waterloo on the battlefield (truth), bring attention to the plight of veterans (needed) and then take credit as the composer (the lie). For Olivia, it’s a chance to earn Martin a living and her to give an audience to her compositions while highlighting the wounded soldiers. This particular aspect underscores the accepted role of women during that time period – that of wives and mothers and certainly not as composers or business women. But Olivia is determined to rise above it even if another must be given credit and the funds.
Olivia with renewed vigor and purpose and always trying to make the best of things especially when directed by her parents to sell off yet more furniture or another portion of their Plymouth estate, sees an opportunity for her and Martin. Turned down several times, she finally secures the printing of her musical score and Martin’s story at The Beacon headed by publisher Will Marsh. Embroiled in his own family tug-of-war over newspaper control (this is London afterall) and captivated by Olivia, he squelches his newspaperman’s instinct that there’s something more to the story than her helping a friend as she debuts The Tune That Took Waterloo in a public concert. With its success and stories being printed and calls for more music, things unravel quickly for Olivia.
The premise of the story is different and fits the time period well with scene detail and very good dialogue but a couple of the subplots felt a bit disembodied though this could have been due to editing. Olivia’s father’s political aspirations are laid out at the start but not Will’s. While he and Olivia have embarked on a relationship – thanks to unmistakable chemistry – and he questions his own desires and abilities to keep The Beacon, his own potential in Parliament begins to surface which is somewhat jarring as it appears a convenient exit strategy from the newspaper. His talented artistry in sketching is noted on sighting and observing Napoleon’s ship anchored in Plymouth and yet that is left unexplored. With so much happening though, only so much can be done and Penttila’s deft inter-weaving of events and a large group of personalities is very well done.
Nonetheless, the feelings between Olivia and Will feel real and his struggle with her deception honest. What was harder was how terribly hard the people closest to Olivia were on her as they found out. Which means Penttila did a good job as we care and want to stand up in Olivia’s defense! She begins to rectify this by displaying more of the bravado of her composer self by explaining then publicizing, her wish to help not only Martin but the soldiers in their struggles to survive in a post-war world. Too, the matter of Avery and his wife Rosa felt like a dangling modifier that was a peripheral or perhaps a set up for what women could achieve. We’re left hanging as we see Rosa perform, men faint at her passionate playing and Olivia torn as she must weigh an invitation to join her on tour throughout Europe. The tension between the two women is nicely played and an uneasy peace forged between the two.
Still, we deeply feel her frustration at everyone, everything and her pain – right reason, wrong way – and the chain of events set off as the vicious rival paper, The Register – begins to intimate the deception surrounding the The Tune That Took Waterloo. Readers will also want to throttle Olivia’s ridiculous parents, Richard Avery and the ungrateful Merry who is ultimately exposed as a shrew and cry for the broken Martin who is ultimately given a new start in life by the delightful lawyer, Mr. Swizzlewit who also happens to be a dwarf though huge on heart and intelligence.
Penttila has given readers a distinct story with a wide palette of characters and roles that are well-drawn and displayed by their dialogue and actions, nice period details that bring us into the post-Waterloo setting and give voice to the emerging role of women and veterans wrapping it up nicely in a novel that spans an impressive array of emotions.
Rating: 4 (Very Good)
Heat-Level: 2.5 (Mild/Sensual)
Reviewed by Helena