False Colours by Georgette Heyer
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: March 1, 2008 (orignally 1963)
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Pages: 355 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Georgette Heyer is the queen of Regency comedy of errors, and this story is one of her best. Twenty-four-year old Christopher (Kit) Fancot is the younger of two twin brothers, his twin Evelyn being the present Lord Denville, and his beautiful, affectionate, charming, forty-three-year old, widowed mother, Lady Denville, is the cause of all their troubles. She formed a marriage of convenience to their father when she was very young, and the very quality of scatter-brained vivacity that their father adored in her during courtship drove him mad during their marriage. All through their childhood the boys and their mother clung to each other in response to their father's distant, harsh coldness, and as they became teenagers and young adults, the twins became increasingly protective of their beloved mother.
Lady Denville has always been a leader of fashion, which constantly requires her to purchase new and extremely pricey clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, horses, carriages, and home decoration. She has also incessantly engaged in expensive, society pursuits such as high-stakes gambling in private homes with other aristocrats and throwing first-class parties (routs and balls), which requires having a really great chef at immense cost. Over the years she has piled up an enormous load of debt, including personal loans from male friends in the manner of "borrowing from Peter to pay Paul." She was too afraid to have her husband discharge all her debts before he died. As a result, she has been left with 20,000 pounds of debt and hounding creditors making her life a misery. As his father's successor, Evelyn feels it his duty to pay these debts--and wants to do so out of love for his mother. But the only way he can manage it is to marry a stable woman and give the appearance of being mature enough to manage his own properties so that his stodgy paternal uncle, who is the executor of his estate until Evelyn reaches thirty, will release Evelyn's inheritance into his own charge.
When Kit comes home unexpectedly from years abroad working in foreign service as a diplomat, he discovers his mother in great distress. Evelyn has been gone over a week and no one knows where he is. Lady Denville begs Kit to masquerade as his brother at a dinner party at the home of the young woman Evelyn made an offer of marriage to before he left town, Lady Denville's goddaughter, Cressy. It is of prime importance that Evelyn not stand up Cressy and embarrass her before her relations, particularly her gorgon of a grandmother, or the engagement will be off and Evelyn won't get his desperately needed inheritance.
There are few situations ripe for so much comic mayhem as mistaken identity, and when switched twins are the identities in question, so much the better. Heyer excels at creating comic characters with utterly unique voices, and the "pretty widget" that is Lady Denville is one of her most hilarious characters among dozens of truly memorable ones. She is a comically ironic antagonist in that she absolutely adores her sons but is so lovably thoughtless, she inadvertently causes them endless trouble.
The two foundations of any kind of story conflict, but especially comic conflict, are secrets and lies, and this story abounds with them. Kit is the straight man in a crazy, comic world, but he has a fine sense of the ridiculous which allows him to deal with the chaos his mother creates with amazing aplomb. One of the themes that I most enjoy, and which occur in almost every Heyer comic Regency, and definitely in this one, is that what makes the main romantic couple recognizable as made for each other is a shared sense of humor. It is also one of the main ways in which we are allowed to enjoy the humor of the book, by viewing the crazy characters around them through their eyes.
I have, over the years, collected all of Heyer's comic Regencies in paperback, and at this time I am collecting them once again as eBooks. This particular version, to my own eyes, read on my iPhone with a Kindle app, is quite good. I personally didn't spot any formatting errors and I am very happy with my purchase.