Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-4137-6
Historical Romance, 2015
If we place a comma between the words “lady” and “be” in the title of Meredith Duran’s latest historical romp, we’d get the phrase you’d see me muttering as I turn the pages, because my goodness, Lilah Marshall is a complete fail from page one to the last. She can’t get anything done right. Fortunately, she gets a husband that will make sure that she will spend the rest of the day not trying to do all the things she failed to get done right here.
Lilah is born on the wrong side of the street – she and her sister were taken in by a criminally-inclined uncle Nick O’Shea after their parents died, and Lilah stole stuff on her uncle’s orders. Her sister and she dreamed of a straight and narrow life, however. After her sister died, Lilah eventually makes her way out of her uncle’s shadow to be come an Everleigh girl, a hostess for the Everleigh Auction House. She’s now free to be a law-abiding girl! Hah, that’s what she thinks. Her uncle threatens to expose her if she doesn’t steal stuff for him, so off she goes at the opening of the story.
While I’m pretty sure Lilah must have succeeded in stealing some things in the past – maybe some candies from crippled people – when the story opens, she is on a cheerful epic rampage of failure for one. She gets caught by war hero Christian “Kit” Stratton, Viscount Palmer, and he in turn blackmails her by insisting that she gets close to the sour and ill-mannered Cathrine Everleigh to that she can somehow find a way for Kit to know that lady better.
You see, Kit is a war hero, but he has an obsessed enemy who wants to kill everyone Kit holds dear as revenge. Kit is convinced that this enemy has already murdered his brother, and he wants that enemy taken out before that villain causes any more deaths. Kit suspects that the villain is somehow sending taunting “Here I am, come get me, muahahaha!” clues through Catherine, who may be an unwitting aide in the whole thing, and thus, he believes that getting to know that lady better would be a good way to go. As you can probably guess, he finds himself very distracted by Lilah, who naturally fails in her role along the way.
Oh, and I’m sure that you, like me, will be very shocked to learn that Lilah will soon be acting like a headless chicken spinning around at the same spot for a year, because she wants to save everyone, be nice to everyone, be a nice girl, but oh, she is too nice to do nasty things to get herself un-blackmailed so OH THE DRAMA OF THE INCOMPETENT HICK. Fortunately, Kit is a far more competent fellow, but even then, I have to wonder whether our hero with all his connections can’t come up with a more efficient plan than the one he has at the moment. Given that he initially feels that he is racing against time to save his remaining family members, it can be odd to see him getting all cozy and cuddly-poo with Lilah. Those quiet times are sweet – especially since those moments don’t see Lilah flailing around for a change, snort – but they lack the urgency that is supposed to be there. As a result, the whole plot never feels as real and suspenseful as it should be.
Then again, it is hard for the story to get me all whipped up in anticipation when I spend most of the time trying to figure out Lilah. The author claims, through Kit, that Lilah is intelligent, resourceful, cunning. I see a heroine who is so intent on being goody-goody that she ends up chaining herself to all kinds of problems because she’s incapable of bending the rules to her advantage. I see a heroine who tend to be too emotional for someone who is supposed to be good at playing various characters. For someone of her past, Lilah often feels unrealistically naïve – she lacks the ruthless edge that could have explained how she lasted this long without being thrown into the slammer. In this story, her “successes” are often the results of happy circumstances that occur despite her screw-ups (such as her improved relationship with her employer – her screw-up just happens to trigger the vulnerabilities that send Catherine into a dramatic swoon and her own romance novel – buy it soon, people) – maybe her life up to this point is like that, too. Lucky, lucky, lucky – and screwing up right into the lap of the very guy who can help her solve all her problems is the biggest luck of them all. If only we are all that lucky, eh?
Meredith Duran is a technically proficient author, and Lady Be Good is an unsurprisingly easy read. There are some pretty sweet quiet moments between Kit and Lilah. but I just wish the heroine is more deserving of the happy ending. An incompetent dingbat screwing up her way to a happy ending may be interesting on paper, but it actually makes for a pretty unexciting read in reality. This is one story where the happiest readers would be those who like the fact that Lilah gets to keep her hands and morals generally free from “icky” things, even if it makes her look like someone who is more clown school than ninja thief ace as a result.