The Countess Trilogy, "The Countess's Client (No.1)," Alison Richardson

The Countess’s Client (Spice Brief 2009) by Alison Richardson is the first in the Countess trilogy. For the unfamiliar reader, Spice Briefs are erotic short stories published by Harlequin in “e” only. During their half off sale, I bought this trilogy based on Janine’s enthusiastic recommendation of them. I’m glad that I did.

the countess's clientThis is my first time reading Ms. Richardson and it probably won’t be my last. She writes well and even for such a short story, I was fully engrossed because the characters actually drive this story. And the driving conflict? Their social status in society.

Countess von Esslin is known around Parish society for her beauty and her virtue. Her reputation and status was constructed to give herself the freedom to enjoy her “erotic pursuits” without causing scandal to herself and others. As she says at the opening of the story, the appearance of virtue is a [very] useful thing. To quote the Countess further,

“To actually be as virtuous as narrow convention demands is far too high a sacrifice for any woman to make; to appear virtuous, however, requires only a small measure of ingenuity and a little luck.

One of the principals that has served her well in her youth include controlling men and their tongue. She advices that if women are to enjoy their sexual freedom as is their birthright, the men in their life must be “discreet and tractable.”

The only thing to keep a man’s mouth shut, according to the Countess is their fear of death. And as the only child of a general, Countess von Esslin indulged her sexual needs with willing soldiers of the Prussian army in Berlin. Her reputation remained untarnished because “it’s a hanging offense to be caught fucking the general’s daughter.”

Now at the age of twenty, the Countess admits to having made one “notable failure.” She decides to share her story to help steer others from the mistakes she’s made. The story thus starts with the death of her husband who was decades older. Widowed, the Countess is sent away to Paris to say with her cousin, Robert. It is there that she makes her first “misstep.” Upon learning that his cousin wasn’t so easily offended by the prostitutes he brought home, Robert starts taking her to the famous Madame Barthez brothel.

It is at the brothel that the Countess meets up with James McKirnan, a Scot who is the son of a common tradesman. He’s also an unpopular client. His clothes, his frugality and his appallingly bad French makes for much squabbling between the whores whenever he visits them every Thursday night. No one wants him save the Countess, who decides on this one occasion, that he isn’t so bad looking and she can satiate her needs by pretending to be a whore for the night.

She quickly becomes his favorite and soon she makes another “misstep” by telling him her real name, which is “Anna.” Intimacy as well as the danger of being found out slowly builds. The Countess aka “Anna” continues this ruse and enjoys these trysts because James proves to be a great lover. Her fear of being found out is a risk but she has no plans to ever run into James in public since they both inhabit different worlds and different social circles. Or so she thought.

However, Anna soon learns that James has received a nice commission from the King. The threat to her true identity being found out is elevated. Flush with cash, James asks that she become his mistress, in public and she refuses. This causes a rift between them and then they both go off in their separate ways. But they do meet again. Does James find out her true identity? And what if he does? What will happen? According to Anna and her cousin, Robert, no one would believe a Countess had been whoring herself to a commoner.

This is a tightly plotted story. The narrative is told in first person. The voice is that of a young woman who knows about all the rules of polite society and knows how to tweak them. The ending was interesting and not all that convincing but I enjoyed it all the same. Seems Anna and her tradesman have more adventures ahead. Good thing I bought the sequels.

Sex scenes were just the right amount and not overly. While not boring, they didn’t stand out either. Chemistry was nice but not as palpable as I would have preferred. Overall, I liked the story and the characters. B+. This was a really quick read which I suspect will probably be true for the other two stories in the trilogy.

And today is the last day in the TBR Challenge for 2009. I want to thank all the readers participated this year and please, if you’ve read down this far, please visit with the other participants of the challenge and enjoy!

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About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Grade B Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Countess Trilogy, "The Countess's Client (No.1)," Alison Richardson

  1. SarahT says:

    This sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!

  2. Wendy says:

    I’ve read all three stories – and while I adored Richardson’s writing style (loved it!), I had a ton of issues with Anna and James. The ending of this story, in particular, felt really “bizarre” to me. I was rollin’ with it up to that point.

    But, the writing did suck me in – so no doubt I’ll read more Richardson titles should they appear on the horizon. She’s got a real knack for first person POV and erotica….says me.

    And will there be a TBR Challenge for 2010? And when ya gonna announce it? Because I’m thinking of throwing my hat in the ring next year 🙂

  3. Keishon says:

    re TBR Challenge, yes, I will be doing another challenge next year! Ho-ray that you’re be participating. Also re Richardson, agree, the ending was weird and unconvincing. Didn’t know what to say that other than her virtue was not questioned…

  4. Janine says:

    Excellent review! It really gets across the charm and appeal of Richardson’s writing.

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed this, Keishon! For what it’s worth, I liked each story in this trilogy better than the previous one. My grade for “The Countess’s Client” was a B, for “An Impolite Seduction” a B+/A- and for “The Birthday Present” an A-.

    I don’t know if you will like the other two as well as I did, but I agree there was an oddness to the last scene in this first novella, and I didn’t find anything like that in the later two.

    I do love Richardson’s voice (and I am not usually all that into first person!) and I also really enjoyed Anna’s snobbery. It is so refreshing to come across a romance heroine who is almost an anti-heroine. At first I wasn’t sure I would like her, but her haughtiness resulted in a lot of humor, so I ended up enjoying her quite a bit.

    I liked James better in the latter two stories than I did in the first. And I thought the sex became sexier in the later stories, too. I’m not sure if you will feel the same way or not but I hope you do since you bought them on my recommendation.

    The three stories are best read back to back IMO because they are really like thirds of one longer story.

  5. Janine says:

    PS Just wanted to add that I’m sorry I didn’t last that long with the TBR challenge. I read good books because of it but the thing about reviewing for Dear Author is that it always makes me feel I should keep up with newer books. I’m a slow reader so it’s not always easy for me to do that. But I do think the TBR challenge is a great thing.

  6. Avid Reader says:

    @Janine: aw, thanks Janine. Appreciate your kind words but they’re not necessary. I realize that DA is more into new books and this challenge is really voluntary so no worries. You all along with other readers participated when you could and that’s good enough for me.

    re Richardson, thanks so much for recommending her. I enjoy her voice very much. As for the ending, I thought that it showed James getting the best of her, showing all that she’s not as virtuous as she seems but still, her station and status in society went unchallenged…bizarre ending but that’s the message I got from it. I plan to read the other two as well.

  7. Janine says:

    Keishon, I got the same thing out of the ending that you did. It was definitely a bit over the top and something of a stretch. I was able to suspend disbelief because I saw it as campy. I do agree, though I also think that one of the fun things about these novellas is the way James and Anna both try to gain the upper hand.

  8. Wendy says:

    I agree with Janine – the series definitely gets better as it goes along. The first story was a letdown for me with that ending (which I just couldn’t wrap my mind around) – and I felt the second and third stories were “stronger.” If I had to pick which one worked the best for me? Probably the second story – An Impolite Seduction. I found the storyline in that one quite amusing (Anna’s naive virginal cousin plans to marry a man who is a notorious bore – LOL)

  9. Janine says:

    @Wendy: The second and third were both very amusing and good IMO, but I think I liked the third one best because it was more romantic than the other two.

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