Avon, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-000207-7
Historical Romance, 2003
Good heavens, can it be? Indeed, Stephanie Laurens’s latest Bastion Club book, A Gentleman’s Honor, actually has some elements in it that is pretty new for a book by an author that – well, let’s just say if a Stephanie Laurens book is a lettuce in the supermarket, normally it won’t exactly be the freshest of the lot. This one is a bit better. For one, the heroine isn’t too stupid. Secondly, there’s no “Yes, you can ravish every inch of my maidenly bluestocking body but I will never marry you because you never tell me you love me!” runaround nonsense. The writing is noticeably better, with not too many overly tortuous purply-prosed love scenes interspersed with short one-sentenced paragraphs.
The downside is that the plot must be one of the dullest I’ve ever come across.
“Mrs Carrington” is in town escorting the popular debutante Adriana. In truth, “Mrs Carrington” is actually Alicia Pevensey, a penniless genteel widow hoping that her masquerade will help land her sister Adriana a husband. However, a nasty scumbag Ruskin recognizes her and blackmails her to be his wife in return for silence. Next thing she knows, he’s dead and she’s holding the murder weapon in her hand. Anthony Blake, Viscount Torrington, discovers her with the body. Being the super ex-spy superhero that he is, he immediately deduces that she can’t be the murderess as she is holding the weapon in a manner that suggests that she doesn’t know how to stab someone to death. (Is there a “correct” way to stab someone to death?) He decides to help her, and along the way, he decides that she’ll be perfect as a wife for him.
It’s a little different, this relationship. Tony doesn’t actually see Alicia and immediately decides that he must marry her – in fact, while he is definitely a one-dimensional superhero Stephanie Laurens hero prototype, there is enough little tweaks here and there to him that distinguishes him from the rest of the Cynsters. Not much, but enough. Alicia isn’t too stupid, aside from that bizarre reluctance of hers to be anyone’s mistress only to throw all caution to the wind once Tony’s fingers get stuck in some sensitive part of her body. The fact that she can go from a woman aware of the need of circumspect and someone that refuses to be anyone’s mistress to some “Ohmigod, this is so hot! Let’s do it again for the next twenty pages!” nymphomaniac suggests that this woman can’t be that strong in the willpower department. However, she doesn’t run around dark lanes searching for adventures, so she’s not that bad. There is a downside to this though: Alicia, aside from being the recipient of Ye Manly Tony’s sexual education, doesn’t actually do anything in this book other than being in distress. One can say that she probably doesn’t come off as too stupid because she doesn’t actually do anything, smart or stupid.
A Gentleman’s Honor is also a little different from the author’s last ten books when it comes to plot structure. As a result, this book, while still predictable, isn’t tired. There’s a certain freshness to the story that has me enjoying this Stephanie Laurens book – the first book by this author to do so in a long time, actually.
The only reason this book cannot compare to the first few Cynster books is the dry murder subplot. This murder subplot has two strikes against it: it is not only convoluted, it is also dull. The mystery sees Tony running around chasing a trail of documents and IOUs and credit notes, and the whole thing is as fun as watching an accountant at work. The romance is pretty much set from the get go, so this mystery is the fuel that drives the story, and boy, what a dull mystery it is. Stephanie Laurens is no Agatha Christie in that her complicated red herrings and plot twists are presented like a mathematical equation. I have a mild headache following how Tony lectures – no other way to describe it than “lecture” – to his friends that the suspect “AC” isn’t Alicia Carrington because AC appears four years ago and Alicia married Carrington only two years ago and blah blah blah snore.
Readers tired of Stephanie Laurens’s last few books could take a look at this one if they want to have some faith in the author restored. The big if here is whether they can overlook the cheerlessly dry mystery subplot to enjoy the rest of the story. The mystery subplot aside, A Gentleman’s Honor won’t be causing too many ripples to the status quo of this author’s style but nonetheless, it’s fresh enough to remind me that when done right, a Stephanie Laurens book can always provide a few hours of decent entertainment.