The Bricklayer’s Helper by Amy Corwin

As an English major, I learned to disdain the Harlequin romances I’d loved in my ignorant childhood. No matter how smart, strong or independent, the heroine would inevitably yield to an aristocratic man or a bad boy reformed by the heroine’s love. Marriage is the ticket to happy ending. How could I have squandered so many hours of my precious, impressionable youth filling my head with brain popcorn? After college, I worked four years, got married, became a stay-home mom, and took a stab at writing a novel. To my shock and horror, when I read what I’d written in the pre-dawn hours, all the cliches, tropes and purple rose of the romance genre found their way into my literary efforts. How dare my brain do that to me! I’d been trained to write right, yet my instincts were to write a love story with a happy ending. The novel went largely neglected while I was pregnant and/or nursing almost non-stop for ten years. When the youngest of three entered kindergarten, I revisited that novel. When the firstborn graduated to college, I graduated to joining a fiction workshop. There I met Amy Corwin. She writes Regency Romances. Her historical research is illuminating and fascinating, and her characters are charming and endearing. I’d set aside my own novel that kept fighting to be a romance and spent many a winter afternoon sipping tea in the sun porch, hanging out with the good people of Amy’s Regency world. Characters from one novel would appear again in another novel. They seem so real, I kept revisiting them. Before I knew it, the truth stared me in the face: Carol had become a fan of the romance genre. It was all Amy’s fault. 
 
The first novel of hers that I read was “I Bid One American,” but the title was later changed to The Unwanted Heiress (The Archer Family Regency Series). Minor characters in that novel appear in “The Bricklayer’s Helper.” I’ll write more about the Archer series another day. For now, I’ll repost my amazon review (though it’s going on four years old). 
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Delightful – a classic girl-must-pass-for-boy theme!, August 24, 2010
 
London. A pampered rich girl; an overnight with her cousins, Sarah and Sam; arson. One girl survives the devastating fire. A servant whispers “Run, run for your life,” before the flame-setting killer finds her. She escapes and is presumed dead with all the rest of the family.

Lost and alone, eleven-year-old Sarah Sanderson assumes her brother’s name, Sam, and works for the next thirteen years as a bricklayer’s helper. She barely remembers the fire; just the fear, and the certainty that she must live a lie, or die.

Sarah is safe as a boy who builds brick walls–until her job takes her to London and the killer strikes again. A stranger tells “Sam” he has information about the fire but is murdered at their appointed meeting place.

Spunky Sam may be the cleverest and most resourceful heroine of any Regency novel I’ve read. She faces the worst predicaments­ — like being so good at her job, and so convincing as one of the guys, her boss pressures “Sam” to marry his daughter. Or suffering the embarrassment of being a boy who blushes and goes breathless at the touch of a man at the renowned Second Sons Inquiry Agency.

Sam can’t work full time and investigate a murder, so she sacrifices her meager bricklayer’s wages to hire help. The only available agent, William Trenchard, is a handsome novice with naked cherubs painted on his office ceiling. The comedy of Sam’s situations rings out page after page, along with despair and danger. She doesn’t guess that William is all but working for free, partly to prove to Sam that he’s not the ineffectual pretty boy people think he is, but also because Sam tugs at his heartstrings, somehow.

William researches the fire and reports to Sam, a slim figure competently laying brick at a townhouse. He shrugs off the occasional odd feeling of attraction to this boy. A sniper fires at Sam, but the shot goes wild because the owner of the townhouse tosses a jug of water out the window at just the right time. The jug knocks Sam unconscious and out of work for a few days.

William discovers the urn-thrower is none other than John Archer, Sam Sanderson’s uncle. Sam’s troubles started when work at that site began. Even more interesting, John Archer and his wife, the sole survivors of the fire at the Sanderson estate, were conveniently away at the time. And if Sam Sanderson is indeed the son of the estate’s owner, then the Archers will no longer get the income from the property. A good motive for murder, indeed.

While the injured bricklayer sleeps in the Archers’ home, William discovers “Sam” is really Sarah Sanderson, presumed dead in the same fire that killed the Archers’ only child, Mary. Sam awakens as Sarah in a lovely house with handsome William advising her not to trust the Archers. She promises to be wary but refuses to give her up her job or her identity. She’s been quite safe as Sam the bricklayer–until now. Thanks to her years as a laborer, she has no idea how to act like a woman, nor does she want to learn. Her only safety lies in keeping her independence and hiding her sex.

When Sarah falls behind on the rent, her landlady sneaks in and sells a box from Sarah’s room to pay off the debt. The box contained papers Sarah saved from the fire, so she and William must track it down to the new owner. He refuses to sell it back, and the “thief in the night” scene with Sarah and William stealing it is the stuff of great movies, a scene you will remember for years to come.

The plot complications are nerve-wracking and comical. At times the novel feels like a family reunion, or a welcome visit from old friends, as characters from other Amy Corwin novels cross paths with Sarah in the same London.

Surprises never run out, all the way to the breathless end, when Sarah is pressured to step out of men’s clothing and character and into the dainty attire of a lady. Will she rise to the occasion, and will pretty-boy William prove himself worthy of Second Sons?

You will be begging for more after you close the book. As luck would have it, more is in store from this beloved Regency author. Watch for those cherubs on the ceiling in Amy’s next novel. It will be none too soon for me!

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About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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