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Cousin Kate

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When young and beautiful governess Kate Malvern finds herself unemployed in Regency England, she is surprised and grateful to receive an invitation to live with a distant aunt. She has never met her Aunt Minerva Broome, and hardly knows what to expect at majestic country home of Staplewood. Her aunt, uncle, and cousin welcome her to their estate, buy her new clothes, and provide all the amenities a young lady of quality should have.

Soon, Kate begins noticing strange things about the manor. Though the guests are few, even family dinners are formal. Unexplained noises and events occur in the night.

Surrounded by her domineering Aunt, handsome but moody cousin Torquil, and cousin Philip, who appears to have taken her in instant dislike, Staplewood soon turns from an inviting stately house to a cold and gloomy mansion

318 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1968

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About the author

Georgette Heyer

153 books4,548 followers
Georgette Heyer was a prolific historical romance and detective fiction novelist. Her writing career began in 1921, when she turned a story for her younger brother into the novel The Black Moth.

In 1925 she married George Ronald Rougier, a mining engineer. Rougier later became a barrister and he often provided basic plot outlines for her thrillers. Beginning in 1932, Heyer released one romance novel and one thriller each year.

Heyer was an intensely private person who remained a best selling author all her life without the aid of publicity. She made no appearances, never gave an interview and only answered fan letters herself if they made an interesting historical point. She wrote one novel using the pseudonym Stella Martin.

Her Georgian and Regencies romances were inspired by Jane Austen. While some critics thought her novels were too detailed, others considered the level of detail to be Heyer's greatest asset.

Heyer remains a popular and much-loved author, known for essentially establishing the historical romance genre and its subgenre Regency romance.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 571 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,878 reviews22.6k followers
January 14, 2020
In Cousin Kate, one of Georgette Heyer's later books (written in 1968, 46 years after her first book, The Black Moth, was published), Georgette tried a Gothic spin on one of her historical romances, with distinctly mixed results.

Kate Malvern, alone in the world at age 23, has just lost her governess job because the wrong guy made a pass at her, can't get another job, and has no money and nowhere to go except her old nanny's home, which isn't a good permanent solution for her. Her devoted and loving nanny, Sarah Nidd, secretly writes a letter to Kate's one relative that seems likely to be of help: Kate's aunt, Lady Minerva Broome. Minerva, a extremely determined and managing type, swoops in to carry the startled Kate off to Staplewood, Minerva's manor, where she lives with her elderly ailing husband, Sir Timothy, and her also ailing son, 19 year old Torquil, who is drop-dead gorgeous but also sulky, spoiled and ... strange.

At first all seems reasonably good: Sir Timothy is kind although distant, Torquil seems to enjoy Kate's company, and Lady Broome is overwhelmingly generous with new clothing and presents for Kate. Torquil's older cousin Philip soon shows up, and sparks fly between him and Kate even though she resents him, because of Reasons.

But odd incidents keep occurring at Staplewood, Torquil's erratic behavior is becoming more of a problem, and Minerva Broome's generosity to Kate starts to feel suffocating ... especially since people keep hinting that Minerva has ulterior motives. And for some reason Kate's letters to Sarah Nidd are never answered, and she starts to feel isolated and uncomfortable. Philip wants to be there for Kate, but Kate isn't sure that that's the right solution.

The marriage between Heyer's lighthearted Regency romance sensibilities and darker Gothic suspense never quite fell into place for me. Heyer takes on the problem of mental illness in this plot, and writes about it with sympathy, but I don't think she really understood it well enough to do it justice, which is a problem when almost the entire plot is focused on this one issue. Heyer takes the easy way out of this one in the end, and the very ending is one of those odd, abrupt ones that occasionally pop up in her novels.

I thought that the romance, although it was a secondary plotline, was rather charming. Both the heroine and hero were appealing ... well, aside from Kate's penchant for second-guessing herself and others, dithering around unnecessarily, and feeling like she owes more to Lady Broome than she should. For a heroine who was otherwise fairly mature and strong-minded, this was frustrating behavior.

But other than this, Kate is excellent in a crisis and has a good sense of humor, and some of the secondary characters, especially her old nurse Sarah Nidd and her father-in-law, old Mr. Nidd, were original and delightful. I would have enjoyed this book more if it had been more about the Nidds than the unfortunate Broome family.

Buddy read with the Georgette Heyer group.
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
773 reviews552 followers
May 7, 2020

The end of the 60s & beginning of the 70s had quite a craze for Gothic fiction. Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier had cemented it's place as a modern classic & the works of the prolific Victoria Holt were widely read. Some established authors wanted to add their own twists to this fad.

Agatha Christie tried her hand at a Modern Gothic with Endless Night by Agatha Christie I reread this last year & it remains one of my favourites from Christie's later works. Unfortunately GH's attempt at a Regency Gothic wasn't quite so successful. According to my trusty Kloester, Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester GH was very unwell when writing Cousin Kate & hated the final outcome. The original synopsis certainly sounds a far superior novel (see page 364 in Kloester).

The story started well, with a plucky but impoverished heroine, Kate. Unfairly dismissed from her job as a governess she comes to visit her former nurse, Sarah Nidd & her colourful family. Sarah thinks her late employer's half sister Minerva can't refuse to help a niece in such desperate circumstances. Sarah is quite correct - but what is Lady Minerva's motive? & what is wrong with Sir Timothy & Lady Minerva's son Torquil? Is he merely spoilt & highly strung - or is there something more?

All that scene setting - great.

What didn't work for me;

I can see why Philip fell for Kate but not the other way around. I worked on that by picturing him looking like Colin Firth, circa P&P.

Mind you, picturing Firth as Darcy fixes just about everything for me!

Add to this a truly bizarre, indeed callous ending & this Heyer is never going to be a five★ read for me. Time has softened my position on it & my last two reads have it as 3.5★

Edit; sorry to float this but something just struck me. I have been adding GH quotes to the GR data base but this book didn't have a single quote I wanted to add.

Reread May 2020

Since rereading Cousin Kate, I have reread my other 3.5★ Georgette Heyer Regencies, April Lady & Bath Tangle - & this book is not at their standard. Obviously both of these titles have their weaknesses for me but I still read them at breakneck speed.

As above, I still really enjoyed the beginning. But the story becomes tedious and slow moving at Staplewood, until the last few chapters. While I liked Phillip more this time (& Minerva's husband Timothy much less) I was bored with Kate's reflections. Even the welcome return of was too drawn out. Maybe GH's publisher expected a certain page count. In the past, GH had written shorter books - for example, The Corinthian When GH ran out of story in her early days the story stopped.

This book was heading (far faster than the story was told) for 2★, but the pace picked up & became almost exciting. My opinion of the callous ending remains the same.

This read 3★
Profile Image for Ruth Turner.
408 reviews111 followers
November 29, 2014

The romance was really a side issue in this book, with none of the feeling that Georgette Heyer has imbued in her other Regency Romances. The love story developed way too quickly and I thought Philip and Kate rather insipid.

However, apart from the romance, this was a good read, and I have to say that I loved old Mr Nid. His conversations were priceless!
Profile Image for Kavita.
752 reviews361 followers
March 4, 2019
This is a removal from Heyer's usual light-hearted and witty romances. The romance is low-key while suspense is very high. Kate is a penniless but well-bred orphan who tries her hand at being a governess but is unable to sustain a position. She takes refuge with her old nurse, Sarah, who promptly writes to Kate's father's sister.

Auntie (Lady Broom) enters and sweeps Kate away to Staplewood, the stately manor home of the Brooms. Here, Kate is lavished with riches and is entreated to lead the life of leisure. But is it just kindness behind Lady Broom's generosity or is there something darker in her mind? To complicate things, Kate also gets an indolent uncle, a volatile cousin, and a sycophantic doctor who looks after the former two. Then, there is also the nephew of the uncle ...

I liked the way the story was heading, but midway through the book, it lost the plot. It lacked the creepiness and really, the only thing that was keeping Kate there was a sense of obligation to her aunt. There should have been some sort of compulsion to make it really interesting. The presence of Philip and the fact that he never came under suspicion also killed the suspense. The romance parts were good, but the conclusion to the story was nasty. I don't just mean what happened was nasty, but how the other characters reacted to it was disgusting.

I think this book was a 3 star for me until the very end, when Lady Broome gets blamed for everything. So here's my rant in defence of her.

1 - Society does not allow women to hold or pursue any ambitions other than that of marriage to a suitable man. Society laughs at women who are interested in marrying a suitable man. Lady Broome cannot win this game.

2 - Lady Broome marries a man in the hope that he would give her what she wants in life because she is not allowed to gain it herself. Sir Timothy falls sick and Lady Broome nurses him back to health, sacrificing all the things she wanted in her life. However, Lady Broome is somehow to blame for ONCE expressing her dissatisfaction with life. Lady Broome cannot win this game.

3 - Society decrees that women shall not inherit, and good wives shall provide husbands with male heir. Lady Broom does her duty and provides male heir. She also does her duty and immerses herself in her husband's family home nonsense. Lady Broome thinks that she is doing what society wants her to do. Society claims Lady Broome is evil because she loves husband's family home ... Lady Broome has no chance of winning this game.

4 - Sir Timothy spends his days lazing around and doing absolutely zilch in terms of raising his son, mad or not. Lady Broome does all the hard work, deals with the small and big problems that arise, organises the household and ensures that lazy male husband and crazy male son is cared for properly. She has to take some hard decisions due to lack of any kind of support from lazy husband. This makes Lady Broome the evil villain because she undertakes responsibility. Lady Broome cannot win this game.

5 - Lady Broome tries to do the right thing by her son, by society and by her husband's family line, concepts created by men and society and in which she had no hand and no power to develop or change anything. Lady Broome thinks another woman's life is dispensable because male heir is more important, in keeping with society's views. Lady Broome is evil. Lady Broome cannot win this game either.

Who is evil, really? Dig a bit deeper, folks! Slow clap for the ingenuity of patriarchy and male entitlement!
Profile Image for Tweety.
433 reviews196 followers
August 19, 2014
I do believe I am in shock. What a morbid, Ghastly, Horrid ending. I rather wish I hadn't finished it at night. How on earth did it end on a happy note?

I really have to think about this review.

I've thought about it

I found it almost lyrical, I could see the beautiful still water that haunted Torquil, I felt his anguish over his dreams. His lingering worry that someone didn't have his best interests at heart. Poor Torquil.

Minerva was so like Aunt Em from Death in Kenya. They both did different things but their heart's were the same. That being the case I abhor Minerva. A more selfish, Obsessed, Cruel women would be hard to find.

The suspense comes purely from mental illness, which happens to be my favorite type of suspense. I can see how the mental illness and the way it was handled pulls people in two different directions. It was mental illness down to the full moon madness. Too thrilling for words!

I liked Philip, he wasn't often there but when he was the mood lightend. Kate was a dear even if she did think she had control of the situation.

Kate and Torquil remind me of Valeria and Miserrimus from The Law and the Lady. The personalities are similar and the conclusion for those two characters is also alike.

Torquil is truly the strongest pull in the story, I didn't think it would make me think so much. Think of Dean in Emily Climbs and you will have a glimmer of what he is like.

I loved that the characters were real to life, they lived breathed and not one of them was one dimensional. For me, this book was a treat. It's not a sparkling, witty, comedy but, a thought provoking Gothic. Though it isn't the worlds best Gothic, see Victoria Holt for those, it is a good character study. Not all the "bad" characters are wholly bad. And the good are the same, you may not be able to look up to them all, yet you can't help but like them. Beautifully haunting.

The language was minimal. There is a horrible scene about a rabbit caught in a trap, not glorified or detailed but still nasty. And then there is a murder at the end. You don't see the murder but you see the body afterwords. Again not detailed but I have a pretty good imagination, so I could picture it all.

Profile Image for Sammy Loves Books.
1,131 reviews1,417 followers
June 30, 2020
I love Georgette Heyer, but was afraid I wouldn't enjoy this book with its low 3.5 rating. But it was very entertaining. Heyer's books are a guaranteed good time and this was a pleasant surprise because it was unlike her other other books. Cousin Kate was a darker read with a conniving villain mingled with some very strange events.

Kate was an adorably sweet heroine with a kind heart. I loved that she wasn't a push over and wasn't afraid to speak her mind. Heyer's heroines are always strong independent types and Kate didn't disappoint.

3.5 stars rounded up.

486 reviews55 followers
February 22, 2008
The one where penniless, orphaned Kate is taken in by an aunt she's never met, and begins to discover strange things happening in the manor.

This was two different books that didn't mesh well together. The romance conflicts with the suspense in a way that takes the power out of both of them. By the time Kate finds out she could be in real danger, she's already got an ally who's more powerful than any of the forces that threaten her. And in a romance context I accept women agreeing to marry men they've only known for a week, but in a suspense context -- in a book that keeps whispering, people are not what they appear; people who seem to be kind are dangerous -- it seemed like a crazy thing to do.

Well, OK, not really; in reality, you could identify the good guys and the bad guys within five minutes of meeting them, but that just means that the suspense-novel rules applied to the bad guys and the romance-novel rules applied to the good ones.
Profile Image for QNPoohBear.
2,919 reviews1,469 followers
June 27, 2020
Turned off from her job as a governess, Kate Malvern has no where to go except to the home of her old nurse, Sarah Nidd, a carrier's wife. When Kate declares her intentions of becoming a fashionable lady's maid or a dressmaker, Sarah is appalled. A young lady like Kate shouldn't have to go into trade, even if her father was a gamester soldier who left Kate with nothing. Urged on by her cantankerous, but kindly, father-in-law, Sarah writes to Kate's estranged aunt, Lady Broome. Kate's Aunt Minerva sweeps in and whisks Kate off to Staplewood for the summer. Aunt Minerva showers Kate with as many clothes and jewels as Kate could wish, yet her life at Staplewood is not what she expected. For starters, her aunt rules the household with an iron fist and won't let Kate help. Then there's her aunt's invalid husband, Sir Timothy, who rarely ventures out of his rooms in an entirely separate wing in the house. Then there's her volatile cousin Torquin, nineteen and behaving like a sulky schoolboy. He also resides an a separate wing of the house and is prone to migraines. Finally, there's Torquin's cousin and perceived enemy, Philip Broome who at first dislikes Kate and then becomes a trusted ally and friend as Kate realizes that all is not well at Staplewood.

This is a Greek Tragedy (or Gothic novel) Regency Romance style. Heyer departs from her usual witty comedies to weave together a tale of ambition, wills, power and mental instability. Kate is a lively, intelligent heroine, typical of Heyer's older heroines. I really like her and admire her for sticking to her plans to stay, yet I find her terribly naïve not to realize what was amiss a lot sooner. Her relationship with the hero progresses gradually and barely into the romance category - more than in The Unknown Ajax, less than Heyer's comedies. The plot is very dark and tragic and full of entirely hateful characters, including Sir Timothy, who loses my respect on the last page. I couldn't really get into this one but yet I had to know how it would all come about happily for Kate. If you're looking for sunshine, flirtations, or witty banter, look elsewhere. This is my least favorite of Heyer's novels. This is also not a good book for Heyer neophytes to begin with because it contains excessive slang that even I find difficult to understand.

Reread May 2020
Georgette Heyer goes Gothic. No. Just no. Super dark, creepy and weird.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 57 books733 followers
May 13, 2016
I have the weirdest relationship with this book. The first time I read it, I *hated* it. To the extent of giving it away. I thought Kate was a doormat and Torquil was awful. This time, I have no idea what I was thinking, because Kate is bright and sensible and clever and altogether interesting. (Torquil is still awful, but in a Gothic way.) I still don't love it, but I'm amending my rating to match my new opinion.

Cousin Kate represents a departure from Heyer's usual historical romances and historical, um, historicals. It's got all the trappings of a Gothic novel, complete with heroine trapped in an old manor and a charming madman. But it's not quite there. The old manor isn't on some wind-blasted heath and it's not haunted; it's actually quite lovely, thanks to the efforts of Lady Broome, Kate's aunt. And Philip, the love interest, isn't dark and brooding, but sort of ordinary while still being a romantic hero. All this will either work for you, or it won't, and I think enjoyment of the book may hinge on what exactly you're looking for in it.

A note on mental illness:

I'm never going to love this book, because the ending is so weak: But it's far more enjoyable than I remembered, and I'll have to reconsider my policy of not owning it.
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews286 followers
May 6, 2016
About a three and a half star book rounded down because Georgette Heyer herself sets such a high bar. Gothic is not my favorite genre and the shocking ending cast quite a pall over the romance. Still, I enjoyed Kate as a spunky, sensible heroine, as well as Kate's loyal and wise old nurse Sarah and Sarah's redoubtable father, Mr Nidd (who provided much-needed comic relief).
Profile Image for Susan in NC.
842 reviews
May 5, 2020
5/2020 reread: 2.5 stars - down from my initial rating years ago, as in it was ok, compared to the many Heyer novels I have since read; but I wouldn’t reread, and this probably would rank among my least favorite of her novels.

Kate is an upbeat, resilient heroine, and I liked her; everything good I said about her in my previous review, I stand by. Philip is a bit stiff, especially as read by my narrator, but it seemed to fit the novel, and he provided the requisite romance, such as it was; Sarah and the Nidds, alone with several lesser servant characters at Staplewood, were all up to Heyer’s usual meticulous, entertaining standard. I enjoyed scenes with them.

No, the fault lies in the very genre itself - I should’ve realized, the very dread and “tightening of the screw” of tension necessary to make a Gothic novel (or film, I imagine) work is not knowing what is coming, what the plucky, vulnerable heroine must face. Here, because I had forgotten much of the plot, I thought I could enjoy the good, “Heyeresque” parts, and overlook the overwrought, melodramatic bits, like the rather brutal ending - no spoilers, but hardly love’s young dream.

I read for escape, entertainment and information, and especially in these uncertain pandemic times, out of a particular emphasis on the first two - this time the treatment of I hope readers new to Heyer do not start with this book.

2012: 3.5-4 stars - as in I liked it, almost really liked it in the fast-paced last third or so; I am not a fan of gothic novels, but this was a gripping and fun ride - I could barely put it down over the last couple of days! This is my first time reading this novel, and as always it is great fun to explore one of my favorite author's novels with the GR Heyer Fans group read. Such an articulate, funny, insightful and smart group adds so much to my reading enjoyment, and this is no exception.

Several members of the group had previously read Cousin Kate and felt it was "meh", others loved it when they read it as a teen and were curious to see how they felt about it now. I was a little apprehensive at some of the negative comments as I've not read a lot of gothics and tend to look down at them as hokey and laying on the foreshadowing with a trowel. I should have had more faith in Heyer - yes, she uses the standard devices of oppressive atmosphere, sinister, manipulative (and sometimes mad) characters, but she also delivers with a wonderful heroine in Kate.

Beautiful, independent, funny, smart and loaded with common sense, Kate is the perfect foil for the cheesier, overwrought plot elements that would have made this book tedious; not quite tongue in cheek, rather our heroine has the warmth and humor to navigate the turgid emotions churning beneath the surface and keep the action moving along, ably supported by some wonderful supporting characters and a charismatic Heyer hero, especially in the second half of the book.

The only thing keeping it from being 4 stars for me was the fact that I'm simply not a fan of the gothic genre, and I wouldn't recommend it to people reading Heyer for the first time - but still an enjoyable, quick read with plenty of Heyer's sparkling wit and wonderful characters (some creepier than others, but well done!)
Profile Image for Sabina.
24 reviews
February 5, 2019
What a story! I can't say this is my favorite Heyer, but it was certainly gripping. The characterization and plotting really rocked!
Profile Image for Teresa.
515 reviews111 followers
May 4, 2020
I liked this book a lot. There was so much drama in it from start to finish. I'ts totally different from her other books and it makes me wonder why she took such a different pathway. What was on her mind when she sat down to write this novel.
The Nidds were my favourite characters. Especially Mr. Nidd. I loved his expressions when speaking. I felt sorry for the Uncle, Timothy. I know he was a weak character and ignored what he didn't want to worry about or be troubled with but life hadn't been kind to him. It seemed to be one disaster after another and there is only so much one person can take. I liked that they were going to stay with him even though Philip much preferred his own home.
The mental health problems were dealt with very well. I shudder to think of the way people with these illnesses were treated back then. Torquil was a thoroughly unlikeable young man, yet the way he was written made you sympathise with him at times.
If you haven't read any Heyer before and this is your first, don't judge her on it. As I said, it's a totally different novel from her others and they are all well worth reading.

I'm still making it 4*s because the writing was brilliant. Wouldn't be a favorite though.
Profile Image for Christine PNW.
673 reviews192 followers
August 10, 2017
This was a very strange Heyer. It wasn't entirely without charm, but there were flaws a plenty. Let us begin with those (there are mild spoilers coming, so be warned):

First, this was supposed to be Heyer's version of a "gothic romance," but, yeah, there was absolutely NO SUSPENSE whatsoever. The suspense is the heart of the gothic: who's behind the mysterious happenings? Is the hero really a bad guy? Are there supernatural influences? Is the heroine going slowly insane, or is she really being stalked? What is going on with the ghostly footsteps/tapping in the gallery/movement of the tiny statuette of the frog . . . whatever?

Heyer reveals everything by the midpoint of the book. This is not suspense, people.

Second, Heyer's depiction of Torquil's mental illness bears no relationship with what mental illness really looks like. I can forgive this to some degree, because it is obviously just a plot point, and a lot of gothics have "mad" people in them which also bear no resemblance to actual mental illness, but honestly, it feels like Heyer didn't even do the most rudimentary research, which given how carefully she researches the customs and shibboleths of the regency era seems like a pretty massive oversight here. It's a caricature.

The ending of that aspect of the plot is also bizarre and way too convenient.

So, it fails as a gothic. But does it succeed as a romance?

And here I say yes. I love Kate - she is independent, forthright, candid and scrappy. All in all, a delightful Heyer heroine. She's not caught up in frivolities and snooty customs. I also loved Philip - he reminded me a bit of the hero from The Quiet Gentleman. This is a man with substance - he's not a dandified youth with too many folds in his neckcloth, he appears not be even remotely obsessed by the shine of his Hessians or the cut of his coat. He's a landowner of better than average prospects who takes seriously his obligation to the land and the people who live on it. Totally refreshing here. He's also age appropriate. Yay.

The one aspect of the romance that doesn't work very well is the speed with which it occurs. But when there is a madman about, I suppose that a guy needs to move fast.

When I read a Heyer, I try to take a few moments at the end of it to consider whether or not I think that the couple will really stick. A lot of her romances, I am pretty unconvinced. This isn't one of those. I think that Kate & Philip will make it after all is said and done.

This is a book to read by Heyer completists as it is far from her best. It's definitely a second rate - maybe even a third rate - Heyer. But for all that, I still found parts of it charming
Profile Image for Kathryn.
255 reviews109 followers
October 8, 2011
Cousin Kate was quite a surprise to me the first time I read it; I was expecting a light and fluffy Regency romance but instead got a Gothic romance. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Gothic romances are a subset of romance novels that feature heroines going through all sorts of dreadful adventures, including fire, flood, ghosts, murderers, skeletons, etc., before finally finding the right man. These novels were extremely popular with young English women during the Regency era, but most haven’t survived to today (although you can find, for example, The Mysteries of Udolpho at Project Gutenberg). But a contemporary reader can still get the idea; Jane Eyre is (sort of) a Gothic romance, including classic features like the confined mad wife and the dread conflagration, and Northanger Abbey is a pastiche of the more outrageous of these books.

At any rate, to be expecting light banter and instead get mystery and a wee spice of adventure is quite a surprise. That being said, however, I really enjoyed Cousin Kate and have enjoyed it more on subsequent rereads. The heroine is appealing and likeable, and the hero is pleasant likewise (if a tiny bit generic in that he resembles many other Heyer Heroes). Sadly, we don’t get that many scenes with the two of them, but the ones we do get are quite good.

The story opens with the titular Kate, an orphan, returning to the arms of her old nurse after having lost her position as a governess due to the advances of her employer’s brother-in-law. Kate is too young and pretty to make a good governess in homes with susceptible young men; she grows quite despondent as, under her nurse Sarah’s aegis, she continues to search for work. Sarah has a much more refined idea of what work is appropriate for a young lady of quality such as her Kate, and in desperation, writes to one of Kate’s sole remaining relatives. (Her parents having made an imprudent marriage, the majority of her relatives have cast her completely off.) Lady Broome, Kate’s half-aunt, arrives to carry Kate off to her gloomy old mansion, Staplewood, which is tenanted by the ancient Sir Timothy Broome, Lady Broome, their young and wilful son Torquil, the slimy Dr. Delabole, and – of course – a dreadful secret.

When I read the book for the first time, by the time I realized I was reading a Gothic romance instead of a Regency one, I was already quite close to puzzling out the mystery, and throughly enjoyed the book. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes romance of this style.
Profile Image for Jessica.
2,022 reviews59 followers
September 11, 2013
This book... I don't know, man.

It has a Modern Gothic feel and a Regency Gothic setting, with its grand old house that becomes a mark of obsession for the innocent-but-plucky heroine's long-lost aunt (who reminded me greatly of Maleficent). Plus all sorts of family dysfunction and madness for extra Gothic fun. And it was definitely scary in places, in a small animals in danger from a proto-serial killer way. But the romance was very abrupt -- to the point where the heroine's suspicion that the hero was asking her to be his mistress rather than his wife seemed completely reasonable to me, and the story didn't seem very cohesive. Also, the heroine was... I don't know how to explain this exactly, but below is my impression of a few pivotal scenes.

Profile Image for Olga Godim.
Author 12 books70 followers
September 23, 2013
Unlike most Heyer’s romances, which are light-hearted romps, this novel is sad, almost tragic, with a brooding atmosphere of Gothic horror and a cast of characters to match.
The protagonist Kate is a penniless young woman of twenty-four. Her parents are dead, she doesn’t have any other relatives, and the only person who loves her is her former nurse. Kicked out from her position as a governess, Kate is trying in vain to find a new ‘situation’. She is close to despair, when unexpectedly a rich Aunt Minerva appears and sweeps Kate into her majestic country home.
Ambitious and autocratic, Minerva plies Kate with material gifts: new gowns, pearls, and shawls. Unused to the life of wealth and luxury, Kate is “crushed” by Minerva’s pointed generosity; it makes her uneasy. Wondering about her aunt’s hidden motives but trying to feel grateful, Kate navigates the complex currents of Minerva’s family. It includes the only son Torguil, a beautiful youth of nineteen with violent mood swings, a mysterious doctor, a frail uncle, and the uncle’s nephew Philip, who dislikes Kate on sight.
The action, slow and ponderous, with ominous undertones, takes place in Minerva’s large house. There are too many lengthy inner monologues, sometimes occupying a couple of pages, as the plot is based mostly on what happens in people’s heads, not on their physical movements.
Matrimonial schemes and concealed madness, family secrets and inexplicably disappearing letters make for a creepy tale of sorrow and deception, and the love story of Kate and Philip seems out of place in the spooky old house. Always in the background, subdued by the misfortunes of the house other occupants, this love story is undeveloped and sudden. One moment, it springs up fully formed and it feels like an afterthought, thrown in by the author to lighten the atmosphere.
The antagonist Minerva, on the other hand, is meticulously developed: a ruthless woman driven by her obsession, she is an evil force propelling the plot.
I wouldn’t call this story a romance, more like a psychological study in a literary frame. It was an intriguing read all the same and it kept me interested till the end.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,114 reviews24 followers
December 3, 2018
December 2017: still uneven in tone, but I’ve bumped my rating up a star because Heyer’s portrait of a narcissist is so perfect, and she really hammers home how much damage this one woman has done in so many lives. It’s all there, the complete lack of empathy, the flying monkeys, the occasional kindness that is really nothing of the sort. I can’t like Heyer’s portrayal of madness, though. Homicidal mania is common in books but I think it’s not in real life. It’s rather amazing how brilliantly she’s shown narcissicism without calling it that, but how she stumbles with the “mad” character (except for the exacerbation if symptoms at puberty) because of bad science of the time.

You do spend the bulk of the book expecting this to be a Northanger Abbey type series of romanticized misunderstandings (particularly on Philip’s part) , and I can’t decide if that’s a flaw or not. I think having our H & h romance concluded in the middle of the book is a mistake, and I’m not sure Heyer wouldn’t have done better to stick with romantic comedy here. Then, of course, she’d have had to rehabilitate Aunt a bit, which would have been a shame, but the tone would have been far more consistent. I imagine Heyer gazing in horrified fascination as her typical plot spiraled sideways into a very dark gothic.

March 2011: The darkest Heyer I've read, with a penniless heroine taken in by an aunt with ulterior motives, an unsympathetic hero, and a poor madman. I got bogged down in the middle of this one - it's clear that Torquil is mad, it's clear that Minerva is trying to get Kate to marry him, but Heyer just fills in more and more pointless detail, perhaps in an attempt to make the Philip-Kate relationship more realistic. She couldn't resist reverting to her regular silly tone at the end, despite the series of tragedies that complete the story, and it makes the whole book messy. Perhaps lovers of the gothic appreciate this one more than I do.
Profile Image for Ana.
2,346 reviews316 followers
January 3, 2017
My Fifth Georgette Heyer

It's always interesting to see a writer challenge herself by writing in another genre. But going from effervescent, comedy of manner romances to the Gothic may have been too much of a stretch for Heyer.

I don't really like being scared, but I'll put up with it for a good mystery and great writing. Since it was clear from the first chapters where most of the plot was headed, this was a slow, dreary and sometimes depressing read. But there were moments of humor and great worldbuilding so I finished the novel surprisingly fast.

Kate is nice enough but seriously not all that bright (exhibit A: dead rabbit, exhibit B: everything), Phillip is a serviceable hero and their love is fine, albeit a little lukewarm. But what really turned my stomach was the fact that they continued discussing wedding plans even after the ghastly events of the end of the book.

If you need your depictions of mental health to be convincing and well researched, then this is not the book for you. As for me I wish there were a prequel novel about Aunt Minerva. She was truly fascinating and the best part of this book. But I'll settle for a more interesting plot. Maybe the parody Gothic novel The Reluctant Widow will fit the bill.
Profile Image for Kwoomac.
811 reviews32 followers
March 29, 2020
Written in 1968, this was one of Georgette Heyer’s later books. A prolific writer, she produced 1-2 books per year, since her debut in 1921 withThe Black Moth. Cousin Kate is a regency romance with gothic overtones. It takes place in a grand manor house, Staplewood. The owner, Sir Timothy, is frail and spends most of his time in his own suite of rooms. Sir Timothy’s much younger second wife, Minerva, oversees the running of the estate, through fear and manipulation. Their only son, 19-year-old Torquil, is volatile and temperamental, and is often confined in his own wing, after one of his episodes, either of rage or mania. Enter our heroine, 24-year-old penniless orphaned Cousin Kate, who has just learned she has a living relation, Aunt Minerva.

As Kate becomes familiar with her new family, she has concerns with both Aunt Minerva and Torquil. While Minerva has showered her with many gifts, including silk gowns and pearls, Kate finds her to be cold and detached. Meanwhile Torquil, has frequent fits of rage and has hinted to Kate that she should be afraid of him.

At one point, I myself feared that something terrible would happen to Kate, as she shrugged off both Torquil’s and others warning that she should be careful. Then I would remind myself that this was Georgette Heyer, not Daphne du Maurier. A very satisfying read.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
608 reviews21 followers
March 11, 2017
I was really intrigued by this book when I got a couple of chapters in and realized the mood was shifting. "Oooh," I thought, "I wonder how a Gothic disguised as a Regency will work?"

The answer: not very well.

There was some good creeping dread early on, but the pacing was awkward and the reader is left facepalming at the fact that it's pretty obvious quite quickly what's going on, but the heroine refuses to put it all together. She's meant to be brave, but cheerfully waltzing through encounters with your creepy cousin who's threatened to strangle you, tends to mutilate animals and asserts that he wants to marry you or he'll do something dire... it makes her look more dumb than brave. The romantic leads are fine, but not memorable enough to make up for the fact that everyone else is deeply unpleasant, even sympathetic characters. Heyer doesn't seem to be enjoying herself and so it all comes off as sordid and dispiriting rather than wallowing in depravity as a good Gothic can. As a final straw, the attitudes toward mental illness, predictably, have aged not at all well and it adds an extra layer of unpleasantness to the whole thing.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Andrea AKA Catsos Person.
792 reviews102 followers
May 9, 2016
The heroine is no shrinking violet!

This book is Georgette Heyer's attempt at a gothic story. This book, like her first novel "The Black Moth" I don't recco to people who are newbies to Georgette Heyer.

I really liked the heroine. She was like able, honorable, independent and plucky.

There were some endearing minor characters from the "lower orders"--Kate's now married former nurse Mrs. Sarah Nidd and father in law Mr Nidd.

There were some amusing foibles of the superstitious Staplewood estate household servants, a vaporous housekeeper with the dubious gift of prophesy who feuds with another upper servant and a temperamental French chef.

The hero was a nice enough fellow, but he was boring.

I didn't like the insta-love/quick proposal. I would have liked to see more development of Kate and Philip's feelings--a romance was lacking. Suddenly out of nowhere, they were betrothed.

Again, to reiterate, newbies should stay away from this, it's not an example of what the author does best
Profile Image for Bev.
2,830 reviews250 followers
July 23, 2022
Late in her writing career Heyer decided to do something different--she combined a regency romance with gothic suspense and mystery. And unfortunately none of the elements are up to her usual standards. They're okay, but just not as strong as one would like.

Kate Malvern, our cousin of the title, is the daughter of Major Malvern, a British officer during the Napoleonic wars. Her mother died when she was twelve and when her father also passes on, leaving Kate with little more than will cover his debts, she is forced to earn a living. She takes up a post as a governess, but soon loses that position when the young man of the house forces his attentions on her and she rejects his offer of marriage. Finding that her youthful prettiness is a hindrance in finding another suitable situation, she returns to the home of her nurse, now Mrs. Sarah Nidd.

Sarah is aghast when she learns that Kate is determined to take what employment she can find--even as a lady's maid or dressmaker, if need be. So, Sarah writes to Kate's Aunt Minerva (her father's half-sister) in the hopes that family will be willing to help. Lady Broome (as Aunt Minerva is) more than comes up to scratch. She arrives in person to take Kate to Staplewood for the summer, buys her niece fine clothes and trinkets, and generally showers her with gifts.

Her aunt's family make her welcome, but there is a strange atmosphere about Staplewood. Her young cousin Torquil has fits of moodiness and temper. There is an odd doctor and groom who follow Torquil about as though he were still a small boy...or not to be trusted. Although the Broome's are the leading citizens of the area, no one comes calling and her aunt does little calling herself. There are rumors that Philip Broome--nephew of Sir Timothy Broome--has been behind certain accidents that have involved Torquil. And...there are odd noises and events in the night hours. What is going on at Staplewood? And what plans does Lady Broome have for her niece? For it soon becomes clear that Lady Broome does nothing without motives that would benefit Lady Broome....

I definitely think I like Heyer's work best when she is doing just one genre at a time. Her regency romances are top-notch. She has a few that have a slight edge of mystery, but no others with the gothic suspense feel. She also wrote a series of quite fine straight mysteries with a hint of romance. But this mix of romance-gothic suspense-mystery just falls short of her best work. The characters are very good and she gives them to us in deft little sketches. The one thing lacking in our heroine Kate is perception when it comes to her aunt. Kate, having lived a life "following the drum" and in close contact with all sorts certainly seems a bit naïve when it comes to the goings-on at Staplewood. You just want to give her a good shake and say, "Kate! Can't you see what's happening?" But, no, she can't.

But the reader can. The mystery isn't really about who is behind what--that's pretty plain. What one doesn't know is just how it's all going to work itself out. The ending does provide a nice little twist (though a bit of a melancholy one) before the happy ending that we all know is coming.

First posted on my blog My Reader's Block.
Profile Image for Whitney .
433 reviews80 followers
May 5, 2016
If Wuthering Heights and Rebecca were to have a baby, Cousin Kate would be the product of their labors. It held mysterious characters with unclear motives like Mrs. Danvers and the strange, conniving plot of Wuthering Heights.

Cousin Kate was our Rebecca,innocent and financially at the end of her rope although rather more like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when it came to wit and brains.

Torquill was Linton Heathcliff, a sickly boy but was more than meets the eye and constantly trying to rebel. He was a loose cannon and didn’t know when it would explode.

Aunt Minerva could be seen as no one else but Mrs. Danvers, she was just plain eerie. I had an idea where her interests lay with bringing Kate to Staplewood Estate; but until the end I was left guessing as to whether Kate was simply there as a daughter replacement to play dress up, or if there were ulterior and much more sinister motives at hand.

Sir Timothy was an oddball and based on his illness described sounded like he was epileptic, having the disorder myself I was curious as to how this would play out but sadly, felt the ball was dropped and an opportunity missed to create an even eerier household.

Mr Phillip Broome, Sir Timothy’s nephew was a combination of Heathcliff and Edgar Linton, he appeared evil and manipulative at the beginning but as the novel progressed turned into Linton with preconceived notions into the wind to blossom anew.

The ending turns regency romance novels on its head and was a highly addictive read. I feel certain that Cousin Kate will not be my last Georgette Heyer novel.
Profile Image for kris.
933 reviews179 followers
August 4, 2017
Kate Malvern goes to live with an estranged Aunt, only to discover that things are not what they seem and then her romance stumbles into Gothic territory. Sound the wailing winds!

1. I usually take Heyer with a bit of a wink, expecting a bit of sarcastic dryness to her works that (for me) make them even more entertaining. However, Cousin Kate was a bit too on-the-nose for me to read it as anything more than what it was: a pretty disappointing attempt at Gothic horror/romance.

2. The ending was such a sad deflating thing; all the tension and fear gets built up and up and then...everything is revealed through monologues and off-page. And then the book seems to go a step further just to drive home the fact that everything is fine now instead of allowing the tragedies and horrors to linger. Instead of reading like a tragedy, it's read as...convenient. An easy way to get antagonists out of the way to allow for a HEA without pause or consideration.

3. AGH THAT AUNT THO. Talk about some gaslighting bullshit all up in Kate's business!! And Kate struggling to reconcile what appears to be generosity with her no-good-very-bad feelings: IT'S EMOTIONAL ABUSE GET OUT OF THE HOUSE. I am still skeeved about Minerva's manipulations because they hit so close to home.

4. I don't feel like I'm qualified to say anything about the handling of mental illness in this book, although I did side-eye the bit about the full moon. But perhaps I am being fussy.

5. I just can't get over that ending. Such a mess.
Profile Image for Caz.
2,621 reviews993 followers
November 13, 2014
I've given this a B for narration and a B- for content at AudioGals.

If you pick up Cousin Kate expecting to listen to one of Georgette Heyer’s trademark romantic comedies of manners, then I’m afraid you might be a little disappointed, as this book is somewhat of a departure from her usual vein.

Cousin Kate is more of a gothic mystery than a romance (although there is one), in which the orphaned Kate Malvern is taken in by her aunt, only to discover that there is perhaps more to that lady’s motives than simple generosity.

Kate is twenty-four, and at the beginning of the story has just returned to London following her dismissal from a post as governess because one of the young men in the household couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Having followed the drum for more than half her life, she has no airs or graces about her, even though she’s a well-born young lady – which is just as well because when her father died, leaving her with nothing, she had to make her own way in life. In London, she stays at the home of Sarah Nidd, her former nurse, who is outraged at Kate’s latest idea of trying to find herself work as a ladies maid, which is, in Sarah’s opinion, no occupation for a young lady of quality.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals
Profile Image for Donna Weaver.
Author 42 books441 followers
July 15, 2018
This was the strangest Heyer book I've ever read. It had a very "gothic romance" feel to it, including some seriously creepy characters. Since I used to read the likes of Victoria Holt a bazillion years ago, I wouldn't normally have minded that.

I guess my big issue is with Kate herself. On the one hand, she had a chipper, engaging personality, not of the usual sort of girl from this age. Having traveled in the military with her father, I got the impression that she had been exposed to a lot more "real life" than most young women would have. And so she had. But at other times she seemed very naive. What really made me crazy was the way she kept defending her manipulative aunt's behavior because Minerva had been "so kind" to Kate. But the woman had only been that way as a means to getting what she wanted from Kate. O_o How is that kind? I loathe manipulators and that element bothered me in the story, but Kate's justification of it drove me nuts.

Worth one read, but it won't be a story I'll be revisiting.
Profile Image for Mela.
1,388 reviews169 followers
March 9, 2017
I am a big fan of GH and I am not a fan of Gothic stories. For me this book was good, but not so good as Heyer could be. I was feeling Heyer's hand in many descriptions and dialogues. And I must confess, there is a good psychological fundaments in personalities of Minerva, Torquil and Sir Timothy.

So, I think it must be an amazing book for fans of GH and Gothic mysteries.
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
2,855 reviews1,495 followers
February 22, 2012
A wonderful little romance devolves into a lurid gothic horror. Ugh.
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