I had heard good things things about Anthea Malcolm and since the traditional regencies are one of my favourite genres I finally decided to pick one up.
I was quite surprised by it because there was a lot more to the story than just a romance between two people. In fact, I think An Improper Proposal is mostly a mystery with a strong element of romance. It's also the story of a family - Rachel, Christine and Magnus and their extended family - and I ended up wondering if there were books about the other characters mentioned.
When the story opens Rachel has just become a widow and her sister Christine lost her fiancée when both men and some friends died in a fire. Christine accuses their cousin Guy, whom she had a romantic relationship in the past, of being the murderer and he disappears for two years.
Guy returns when the three siblings situation was bettered because Magnus has inherited the family's title and Christine is engaged to a duke's son (the brother of her dead fiancé). The Bow Street Runners are still after him becaure of the deaths and when he asks for a month to find out the truth before being arrested, they agree on the condition that Magnus guarantess his good behaviour. seeing her brother is going to reject the request Rachel tells them they are engaged, even though she believes him in love with her sister still.
Guy and Rachel eventually decide that the best thing is to actually marry, Rachel will have a father figure for her children and Guy will be free to investigate who actually set fire to the theater. The theather is also an interesting theme in the story because not only Guy is a play writer but Rachel actually owns and manages the theater making her a woman of independent means.
Most of the book is devoted to the mystery and I thought that was actually very well done. The men who died were part of a radical group that contested some political actions and while their ideas might have been a motive for murder the author manages to make more intriguing and less obvious than that. I was quite surprised in a good way with the detecting skills of the main characters.
What I didn't like was the lack of communication between Rachel and Guy. She spends most of the book, almost to the last page actually, believing that he loves her sister and I thought that was really sad. Since she was the one who suggested their marriage it seemed obvious to me that she loved and that he should be the one to talk about his feelings first. Instead he kept putting up with her sister's demands for attention and leaving Rachel with the impression that he still loved Christine. Not only that but I really disliked his attitude when their mother came to visit, the mother had left them 25 years before and while making the peace was the best thing for all of them he should never have shown all that familiarity with her and seemingly putting himself on her side, against Rachel.
In a way, because they talked so little, I found it hard to empathise with Guy and Rachel. I would have been much happier if we had more time devoted to the secondary romance of Magnus and Margaret who seemed nice people who fell for each other when they started getting to know one another better. They were a prime example of a couple that changed for the best by having a relationship. Magnus became less cold and Margaret more self assured. Unfortunately they are not given enough time in the story and my disappointment with the main romance leads me to give this one a lower grade. But I was intrigued enough with the story and the fact that there were so many different plots in it to want to read another Malcolm and see how I like it.