The Gentleman and the Thief by Sarah M. Eden is a Victoria romance, the story of a man who is a gentleman by ancestry but supports himself by writing penny dreadful stories (Society must not find out!) and a music teacher who has been stealing back former possessions since her father was bankrupted and they lost everything.
Hollis Darby's father gambled away everything but he still has principles. As a member of the Dread Penny Society, he is tasked with wooing various well-pocketed members of society into donating to their cause, rescuing waifs from the street and giving them a new home and life. They're also seeking a thief, the "Phantom Fox", whom they think to be one of the street children.
Ana Newport's fall from society is more recent and painful as her father did nothing wrong beyond choosing a business partner who was dishonest. After the loss of his company, their house was emptied of all possessions and he has retreated to a single room, where he sits in the window. Ana teaches music but she has also become a skilled thief, although she only steals items of little but sentimental value. Will Ana get caught?
Hollis has been besotted with Ana since the moment he first laid eyes on her but she seems hesitant to become involved with anyone. When Hollis's brother needs a music tutor for his daughter, Hollis jumps at the chance to ask her for help. It can't hurt that she will need a ride to and from the house.
Hollis is also worried about his brother. He's hanging out with the wrong people and possibly gambling, the very thing that caused the loss of the family fortune. And, Ana Newport's father has noticed strange happenings at the home across the street. Are they connected? Hollis suspects that the notorious Four-Finger Mike is running a gambling den near Ana's home. Will Hollis and his friends find a way to infiltrate the house and stop Hollis's brother from ruining the family all over again?
Interspersed throughout the book are installments of two immensely entertaining penny dreadful stories, one the story of a ghost school where young ghosts learn how not to accidentally fall through the floor, how to haunt properly, and other important ghostly skills. The other seems to parallel the main story without being a carbon copy, the tale of a man who has discovered that things are mysteriously disappearing from his ancestral home. The latter has a surprise twist that I never could have guessed in a million years.
Highly recommended - Adventurous, captivating, clean romance and so immensely entertaining that I dashed off immediately to add the first book to my wish list. The Gentleman and the Thief is the second installment in a series but it stands alone, although hints are dropped and a few small things left open-ended, clearly to lead into a third book. I have got to chase down a copy of the first in the Dread Penny Society series: The Lady and the Highwayman.
Many thanks to Shadow Mountain for the review copy!
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