A dashing and feckless lord enters a marriage of convenience with the lovely and practical daughter of a wealthy merchant to salvage his family fortune, but they find themselves unprepared for scandal, rioting tenants, a menacing neighbor-and discovering a love that is neither convenient nor practical but entirely heartfelt and enduring.
After reading several reviews online comparing In For a Penny with the stories of the great Heyer and traditional regencies in general I decided that I had to get my own copy and see for myself what the fuss was all about. I am rather happy that I did, it was a nice and refreshing story and Lerner is definitely and author to watch out for.
Lord Nevinstoke, Nev to his friends, is a young gentleman of the ton. Heir of a titled family he likes to drink, gamble and be surrounded by beautiful women. He doesn't particularly enjoy the ton's parties where the mother's try to pair him up with marriageable girls but at one of them he meets Penelope Brown, the daughter of a very rich brewery owner, and actually enjoys himself while with her.
When his father dies suddenly in a duel and Nev becomes Lord Bedlow he discovers that they are ruined and not even selling every valuable will help him support his mother and his sister. The only solution is a marriage of convenience to a rich heiress and that's when he remembers Penelope and rushes to propose to her. It's actually quite endearing the way Nev is so honest with Penny, he tells her why he is proposing and how besides her money he needs her help with managing the accounts because he feels totally lost in the area. Penelope is a rather sensible girl, she likes Nev but she doesn't love him. But she knows her parents expect her to marry well and the boy she liked in the past is away so, after writing down her conditions, Penny agrees to a marriage of convenience. In exchange Nev will have to give up wine, gambling and women!
After they are wed Nev and Penny move to his estate in the country, once a prosperous house it is now an abandoned house that needs a lot of work done, where they try to restore the house and take care of their tenants while getting to know each other better and make their marriage of convenience work. I think both Nev and Penny were really nice characters, he is determined to play the part of the good husband and landowner and tries very hard to do it. It's obvious from the beginning that Nev has his heart in the right place. However his lack of experience makes for some funny scenes. Penny is a sensible, down to earth girl. She is decided to make the best of her marriage, to learn her new duties as fast as she can and be a useful wife for Nev. While her dowry solved their most pressing problems it didn't last forever and they truly have to economise till the next harvest.
This sounds like enough plot to a story but Lerner adds a mystery subplot. Someone is exploiting their tenants who live in appalling conditions and, while Nev and Penelope want to do something about it they don't have the money to change the situation and instead have to do a little detective work to see who things came to be as they are. I really liked all the information regarding the social conditions and it is seldom that we have stories dealing with poverty like this one where both the lords of the manor and their tenants are facing it. Nev's mother and sister have a hard time accepting his wedding to a cit's daughter which adds more stress to their marriage and when they both have visits of people from their past their insecurities and doubts seem to put their happy ending in peril.
Overall I think Lerner managed to grab and old premise and turn into something fresh and new. Penny and Nev felt both more real in their needs and expectations than most book characters. In a way I think she changed the usual gender roles as Penny is the one who actually manages the estate and Nev the one who has more empathy with the workers and knows better how to talk to them. While the book was not without some flaws - like Nev seeming too carefree at times or a sex scene they I felt sounded too modern for this type of story - I can say that I enjoyed it very much!