Charlotte Lamb and the Allure of Old Skool HPs

by Sunita

One of the truly wonderful things about the internet in general and the online romance community in particular is how someone like me, who thinks she really knows an author or a genre, can come across new information which shakes her sense of certainty. I’ve read HPs since they were introduced in the early 1980s. But I’ve always read very narrowly within the line. Above all, I never used to read the ones with foreign alpha heroes and lots of angst. I liked my angst to be restrained, à la Mary Burchell, or absent, à la Betty Neels.

But in the past couple of years, various discussions online have made me curious about some of the 1980s authors I’ve avoided, such as Charlotte Lamb, Robyn Donald, Daphne Clair, and the like. What really pushed me over into finding used copies and reading them one after the other last year, though, was Tumperkin’s love of Charlotte Lamb. She persuaded Jessica to read Lamb’s Dark Dominion, which is is a marriage-in-trouble book.  In her review, Jessica observes that the beginning of the book could easily be “the beginning of a hopeful story of a woman who escapes her batterer and starts a new life.” Of course, in Ms. Lamb’s hands, the book involves the successful rejuvenation of the couple’s marriage. Jessica found that even though she could acknowledge the skill Ms. Lamb showed as a writer and storyteller, she could not think of the book as a romance.

The review and the comments that followed were so intriguing that I found a copy to read, despite my long aversion to alphahole heroes and doormat heroines. And I was hooked. I saw exactly what Jessica meant and why she couldn’t enjoy the book, but I was fascinated by what Ms. Lamb was doing with the plot and characters. It was a really insightful portrayal of how uncomfortable love can be, especially when one partner in a couple has a jealous streak that he cannot control, and how the other partner can be attracted in spite of that flaw, or maybe even because of it. After finishing Dark Dominion, I realized that I really enjoyed seeing the author take well-worn tropes (marriage-in-jeopardy, alpha hero, etc.) and push them as far as she could. Even more importantly for me as a reader, I realized that when I was younger and reading for relatively uncomplicated happy endings (my personal life was complicated enough that I didn’t seek it in my downtime), I missed some really interesting romance novels.

I started hunting for more of the same. I began with a couple from Tumperkin’s Top 5 and went on from there. Here are some of the other Charlotte Lamb HPs I’ve read:

Frustration. Young widow is attracted to hero because he reminds her of her dead husband. Hero becomes lust-obsessed with heroine, who is attracted to him in turn but ambivalent and guilty about betraying dead husband. They torture each other for most of the book until she falls in love and finally admits it. She works for him, so there’s workplace drama thrown in. The title describes it to a T. A t-is also-for-terrific read.

Obsession. Secretary for family firm is pursued by alphahole rake of a boss. He wants her without strings, she’s disgusted with herself for being attracted to him. H’s near-seduction of h’s married sister, H threatens to slap h silly because of his jealousy, h taunts H by dating his brother, and so on until the HEA. Awesome portrayal of two people who don’t want to fall in love but literally cannot stop themselves.

Temptation. Rich 30-something man crashes his car near the house of a widowed artist and his teenaged daughter. Man seduces daughter, ‘fesses up that he’s married, and then goes away, leaving daughter devastated and near-suicidal. Years later, daughter/our heroine goes to London, acquires an admirer who turns out to be the man’s son. Heroine dumps son, marries now widowed H (ostensibly for revenge), tortures him and finally admits she is still in love with him. The quintessential HP of its type; enormously compelling but seriously creepy at the same time.

Abduction. Young innocent h marries alpha-tycoon H after whirlwind courtship, walks out on him six months later. H & h are reunited when their toddler son is kidnapped, which is also when H discovers he is a father. Toddler is found, and H, who has gotten h to come back to the marital mansion while they are searching for the kid, gets h to stay while he tries to persuade her to give their marriage another try. Pretty good, w/some amusing tycoon-as-father-of-toddler scenes.

Haunted. Heroine is shattered when she finds out that artist she had walked out on two years ago was killed in a car crash. Goes to France and sees man with uncanny resemblance to H. Is H still alive? How could he be? Have you read an HP? Then you know the answer. Not one of Lamb’s best, but okay.

Runaway Wife. After 10 years, wife can’t take her marriage anymore (surprised more wives in HPs don’t feel like this). Can’t get H to talk to her, so she walks out while he’s away on yet another emergency business trip. But goes back to work for his partner in the firm she helped them start (because of course she won’t take her money from their bank account)! Only in HP-land. Despite ridiculous setup, it’s well worth reading. The alphaH actually learns in the course of the book, and the h stands her ground (especially for an HP). Some funny scenes as he tries to become more worthy.

Vampire Lover. Written before the Paranormal Onslaught, so the hero is a metaphorical vampire, not a real one. Famous film director H comes to town and buys old mansion from real-estate agent heroine, who is practical and self-sufficient enough to have wandered in from a Mary Burchell Harlequin. Heroine thinks H is vampiric in his ability to entrance and then use women and she is determined to resist. The entire last chapter takes place with the H and h handcuffed together.  Recommended by several commenters at DA and elsewhere and it lived up to its advance billing.

After reading all these and some other HPs in succession last summer, I (not surprisingly) took a break. But just writing this up has made me want to go back for more. Luckily I have a couple more of Tumperkin’s favorites in the TBR, and if I run out of recommendations I’ll just revisit the great HP threads on the Amazon romance discussion boards.

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