Pocket Star, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-9596-6
Contemporary Erotica, 2015
I have been squinting at the cover for a while now. What does the whole thing mean? It looks like either a magic pigeon showering the poor drugged-out woman with some kind of magical bird ejaculate or there is magic steam coming out of the snoring woman’s mouth and forming a pigeon of some sort. Either way, the whole thing is mystifying.
The story in The Lady Vanishes is more straightforward. The title is, of course, a reference to the hero’s job – Milton Shaw is a magician who entertains the children every week in a pediatric ward as well as an inventor and techie, and he definitely knows that trick where he makes a woman vanish. It is, also, a not-very-subtle reference to the fact that this is a defrosting the ice queen romance – by the end of the book, the prim and proper stick-up-the-ass heroine’s persona is gone. The heroine, Dr Regina Gallows, is exactly like her last name would imply: she has no sense of humor, and thanks to her father being whom he is, she now assumes that every man with even a little bit of charm is a villain of the highest order.
The heroine’s generalization of men with such a broad brush is problematic because this is a longer story than the author’s previous offering, and as a result Regina’s one-dimensional issue with men ends up making her look like a candidate for therapy or a thin excuse of a plot device to keep the story going. I’d have preferred that the author uses the larger word count to develop the heroine, show more of Regina’s strengths and vulnerabilities, but the poor heroine is large one-dimensional here. She’s rude, bitchy, and humorless – she even acknowledges this once or twice in the story – to the point that I wonder how she can even have any friends. On top of her unpleasant personality, she’s neurotic. Every time the hero makes her feel happy inside, I cringe because the next scene is almost always one where she lashes out at the hero for daring to make her like him. If The Lady Vanishes is a shorter story, Regina’s paper-thin personality would still be okay as the story would have ended long before one notices that the heroine desperately needs more depths to her personality. But this is not a short story, hence my frustration with the heroine.
She becomes a more pleasant character once she gets laid, but this isn’t exactly a good thing as it only corroborates to the unfortunate perception that, yes, prudes and prunes really need to get shagged in order to loosen them up – at least, it’s true in this particular story. If only the heroine had loosened up before she sleeps with the hero, but oh well, I guess that’s how the dice fall here. While the heroine becomes likable, the story encounters another problem: momentum. Nothing particularly interesting happens in the post-shag afterglow of the second half or so of the book, other than the hero trying to be romantic and the heroine swatting off his overtures because she’s worried about being in the limelight and having all her secrets exposed by the paparazzi. In other words, the author has substituted the heroine being snotty to the heroine playing super hard to get as conflict, and things aren’t still interesting.
On the bright side, the hero is a charming fellow. He had a past that was all about the hard knocks, he made himself into what he is today, and he gives back to society, especially children who need to be reminded that there is joy in life, as a way to pass his good fortunes on. Milton is also a bit unsure around women, making him a pleasant diversion from the abundance of alpha males and smooth players running the romance scene, and really, he’s a nice guy. Milton ends up being the far more well-rounded character compared to Regina. He could have been the trophy perfect boyfriend for the stick-in-the-mud prude who desperately needs a shag to loosen her up, but he ends up being more like a real person compared to Regina. And he’s a magician! And I always can’t resist a magician who knows how to make people laugh, sigh.
Also, the author’s narrative style is one that I really like. Ms Camden can describe emotions and passion in a way that is both cynical and breathless at the same time. It’s hard to describe the effect using words, it’s… well, let me just say that if Ms Camden is on a roll, she can high both the highest and lowest notes in the romance handbook in ways that hurt and gratify all at once.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that the wordsmith of this story is muted somewhat by a heroine who could have used more depths to her personality. Sure, the heroine’s issues and the angst in this story may be familiar, but if the heroine had been a more engaging character, these elements would become compelling. With Regina being what she is, unfortunately, The Lady Vanishes ends up being just a so-so readable story with the occasional glimmers of greatness here and there. Sorry, Milton, you’re a sweetie and you can use that saw on me anytime, but we need more magic in this place.
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