The Fortune Hunter is an odd mix of Georgette Heyer, Jilly Cooper and Dick Smith that enchanted me from its first pages.Fortune-hunter

Charlotte is an heiress who has some rather tactless and grasping relatives. She puts up with them because she is in general a very forbearing person, but she very much looks forward to gaining her majority when her fortune will be her own.

The more impoverished Bay Middleton is shaken by the end of an affair with a society wife, who, though pregnant with his child, discards him callously to return to her husband in the country.

Perhaps longing for someone who he can call his own, as soon as he meets Charlotte he is struck by her. Even though she is plain he finds her conversation as well as her photography hobby refreshing.

For herself, Charlotte falls head over heels for the charming Bay almost as soon as she sees him. Who would not? After all, Bay’s charm has won over countless ladies before her.

It is that charm that leads to his being appointed as a guide to the Empress of Austria, Sisi, for the season’s hunting. Glamorous, rich and accustomed to getting her own way, Sisi takes a liking to Bay and decides to make him her creature.

The demands of the empress threaten to destroy the fragile understanding Charlotte and Bay have formed, especially since Bay is dazzled by the Empress’s beauty and superior riding skills while feeling compassion for the unhappiness hidden beneath her militantly maintained exterior. As the book progresses, it seems ever more likely that the empress’s growing attraction to her English guide will doom the future Bay dreamed of with Charlotte.

In typical Heyer fashion, the strength of this book lies in the wry portrayal of a large set of characters. True, they are not particularly original – their like can be found in any period romance – but this does not extinguish their charm. We feel for Charlotte as she navigates their idiosyncrasies.

Meanwhile, in Dick Francis style we are caught up in Bay’s overriding passion for the hunting world – an obsession for horses combined with a fierce joy in the freedom and dangers of the sport – and Charlotte’s photography hobby – an interesting glimpse into a technology that has evolved much over the last 150 years.

Finally, it is the irreverent depiction of Queen Victoria and Empress Sisi verbally fencing at Windsor that makes me think of Jilly Cooper, who does love to highlight the ridiculous in her novels. I chuckled to myself on a number of occasions, which made people on the bus think I was a little mad.

Whoever Goodwin took her inspiration from; since I started the book on Sunday and finished it on Tuesday I think I can safely say it was a hit. The only thing I didn’t like was that I felt the blurb had falsely advertised the book. It describes a novel that is about the empress, when really the focus is Charlotte. Although Sisi is a fascinating historical figure, she is definitely the antagonist – to be pitied but not loved.

I’m going to give this book a 4/5.