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Storm in a Rain Barrel by Anne Mather

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For me this was a vintage winner: a guardian-ward romance with a massive age gap (17/37). There’s a devastatingly sexy, older hero who’s 100% in the mould of Mills & Boon/Harlequin heroes, right down to the “deeply etched” lines and the “sensual curve” of his mouth. And some bonus low-growing sideburns, but hey, this is the 1970s.

Our orphaned heroine is straight out of convent school at 17 years old, and with all the hero’s comments about how she looks 14, you might think you were reading a Sara Seale. Particularly when he whisks her off to his remote grim Yorkshire mausoleum in the middle of the grim grey freezing moors, stuffed with weird and unpleasantly hostile relatives.

But this is an Anne Mather, not a Sara Seale, so we are going to get at least a little bit of “action”. Not early enough, and not all the way, unfortunately. And there are several moments earlier on when he really needs to kiss her, or get closer to it, but doesn’t. We don’t get it until page 134.

[And how come they get drenched with rain – used as a literal “cold shower” to halt the action – if they’re in a “kind of shallow cave” under an overhanging bluff? So are they in a cave or aren’t they?]

Others have commented that the major flaw of Storm in a Rain Barrel is that not enough relationship is built between James and Domine. I would have to agree with that. There is an eleventh hour effort made to establish some kind of relationship-building, when Domine seems to take about six months to recover from flu and James pays daily visits. But it’s all somewhat too little too late.

The problem is that early on, Mather keeps them apart nearly 100% of the time. They barely interact in the weeks following the drive up from London. James doesn’t even know that Domine is working full-time as an unpaid servant. So when and how he falls for her his anyone’s guess. We need more of the getting-to-know you before all the kissing, otherwise it does feel – as James says – nothing but lust:

“And if you imagine the sexual urgency which we just shared has anything to do with that sweet emotion, then kill the thought. I admit – I wanted you, Domine. For my sins, I can’t deny it. But with you – or anyone else – the result would have been just as satisfying!”

Wonderful types, these vintage romance heroes!

Also, rather like a Sara Seale novel, there’s an effort to keep portraying Domine as plain, alongside a conflicting effort to suggest she’s actually incredibly attractive. She’s given drab and plain clothes and described as “pale and uninteresting” and “not good-looking”. Then later on a bit of exercise and cold wind put some rose into her complexion. But soon we’re once more told she’s “not, as they say, pretty”, but right the next moment someone suggests she becomes a model.

Domine is seventeen years old, slim, with glossy hair, large dark eyes and good skin. If that package doesn’t make her “pretty”, she must be practically deformed. Hardly anyone isn’t pretty when they’re seventeen.

Anyway, what else have we got here? Three Other Women: the first is deliciously ghastly – her name is Yvonne, she has curly blonde hair and a shrill voice. Then there’s poor old unpaid servant-cousin Melanie, who turns out to be quite nice. Finally there’s glamorous widow Lucia, who’s actually an old friend and really has more of a fairy godmother role.

Oh – and a final note – Anne Mather seems obsessed with the phrase “giving head” in this novel. She uses it at least three times, for cars and horses. Fortunately it’s not what you think it is, though it might have been a rather more fascinating novel if it were.