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"Sir Percy Leads the Band" by Baroness Orczy

In the fourth novel in the Scarlet Pimpernel series (if one counts the prequels), Sir Percy spends much of his time in Choisy, France disguised as the leader of a band of musicians who entertain the French revolutionary masses at a seedy local alehouse. Sir Percy plays the fiddle loudly if not with finesse, captivating the crowd with his enthusiasm and inherent charm. That and copious quantities of alcohol induce the patrons to overlook the less-than-stellar performance of the band members.

The reader at first wonders what the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel can accomplish in their roles as musicians, but as usual Sir Percy has his measures well planned. The alehouse is a meeting place for citizens of the republic, meaning French revolutionaries, and things can be overheard as the revolutionary rabble plans its mischief.

The fact that the French Commissary has placed a considerable price on the head of The Scarlet Pimpernel amuses, rather than deters, Sir Percy. He is in France to spare the aristocratic La Rodiere family, the Abby Edgeworth and Doctor Simon Pradel a trip to the Guillotine. To accomplish this goal he uses the boldest of methods: hiding in plain sight. When the revolutionaries decide to sack the Chateau La Rodiere, the band leads the crowd and plays tunes while the rabble stages a merry dance around the lovely and frightened Cecile La Rodiere. So enthralled is the crowd with the music and dancing that they have little time for theft and destruction, but no one seems to notice. A fever pitch mounts as Sir Percy's arch enemy, Chauvelin arrives on the scene, but with quick thinking and brute strength (and a little something in their wine) Sir Percy renders Chauvelin and a crew of Gendarmes helpless until his mission is accomplished.

But treachery is afoot among Sir Percy's own ranks. Several players in this drama work at cross purposes, motivated by infatuation for either Blanche Levet or the lovely Cecile La Rodiere. Sir Percy, however, is an astute judge of character, and while he may not play the fiddle well, he is accomplished at playing people, with astonishing results.

Fans of the Scarlet Pimpernel series might wonder what happens now that alter ego of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Sir Percy Blakeney, is revealed. How can Baroness Orczy keep up the aura of mystery that surrounds him? Those fans need not be concerned, as this novel is just as entertaining as the previous ones, and possibly the most amusing of them all.

Reviewer's note: I have now read sixteen classics as a result of my involvement with Girlebooks, and no doubt is has widened my horizons. As a sci-fi junkie, I have spent very little of my life reading the classics and only then when required to in high-school or university lit classes. I have read fewer women authors, who are slighted even in the above-mentioned classes. Now that I have had a taste of the quality of literature that is available from literary classics written by women, I am eager to see what other "diamonds in the rough" are available for our reading pleasure, and is there enough time to read all of them? On the negative side, I have read so many e-books that when Laura sent me a real paper book for my birthday, I found myself repeatedly pressing the bottom of the page, trying to get the book to display the next page.

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