Imperfect Pretence is Ann Barker’s eighteenth novel, and she obviously knows the period well, although I was dubious about two women dining alone in the ‘public dining room’ of an inn. Set mainly in Norfolk in 1793, it is the story of a ship owner, Max Persault, who is induced to pretend to be his cousin, Alistair, the Duke of Haslingfield. Travelling to one of the duke’s minor estates, where the duke will not be known, he encounters Miss Constance Church, who takes an instant dislike to him.
Meeting again at the duke’s estate, near which Constance lives, misunderstandings are cleared up as the couple get to know each other and gradually fall in love, as do their friends Abdas Okoro, an African Max saved from a slave ship, and Melinda Grayleigh. I had a problem with this aspect of the story, as none of the main characters have any problem with their interracial relationship, which seems unlikely in this period. And there is a problem with the finale, when Max decides to stay on in the area under his real name, although everyone in the vicinity knows him as the duke.
Despite these caveats, it is a pleasant read. The dialogue flows, and the characters are believable.