Berkley Sensation, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19070-6
Historical Romance, 2003
Oh look, Deborah Simmons has gotten published with Berkley. That means a bigger print run, better distribution, and even better, I can get this book in Singapore in a timely manner instead of lining Jeff Bezos’s wallet with exorbitant shipping fees. Unfortunately, A Man of Many Talents is not worthy as an introduction to this author’s works. For one, the heroine is a grade A pain in the behind.
The story is pretty simple – Christian Reade, the Viscount Moreland and also our hero, decides to visit his grandfather and escape the city at the same time. Since he proved that a recent haunted house in Belles Corners is actually a hoax, people start believing that he is some expert in the supernatural and start pestering him non-stop about the hounds of Baskervilles and other nonsense in their backyards. Christian is not even close to being a ghost hunter. He’s just Annoyed.
Even in Bexley Court, there’s no peace when he receives a letter from a Miss Parkinson requesting his help to debunk the stories of the haunted Sibel Hall she has inherited. She wants to sell the place so that she can buy a nice little cottage and live a life of genteel Hermit Bluestockingness. Christian drops by at her place as a favor to his insistent grandfather (who’s big about gentlemen helping damsels in distress), and you can guess what will happen to him and Miss Parkinson. There are three eccentric secondary characters staying with Abigail for comic relief moments.
Christian is a hero that’s very easy to like. Descended from a notorious pirate, he likes to believe that there’s a dash of rakishness in him, but actually, he’s a rather adorable beta hero whose easy sense of humor and personality make it easy for me to imagine why he’d be very successful as a rake. He’s no larger than life tortured hero, just a hero who’s an adorable mixture of geek-rake-sage. Unfortunately, he has a high tolerance for BS because he falls in love with Abigail Parkinson who treats him the entire book like, well, to be blunt, she treats him like he’s the cause of the awful stench from a broken toilet bowl.
She has absolutely no reason to do this. Okay, she has a flimy excuse: she was a companion before she inherited Sibel Hall, and her experiences with men of the Ton color her perspective until she’s a raving, irrational idiot. She spends the entire time in the first half of the book snapping at the hero, being cold, scowling and frowning at him as if he’s an annoying imbecile, and even leaving him to face the dark cellar alone and forget all about him until almost a day has passed. Conveniently, she seems to have forgotten that Christian is the one who has come here to do her a favor. There’s no reason for her icy and rude treatment of him throughout his entire day. There are moments when she admits that she’s treating him badly, but then, she will either find him taking a little alcohol (who wouldn’t, when having to face her dour and nasty countenance 24/7?), then she’s back to accusing him as one of those drunken lecherous males that accost innocent women. All this over a little drink?
This book almost hits the wall when she then has the nerve to demand that he proves to her that he’s a responsible sort, this after she’s subjected him and me to many very nerve-wracking sanctimonious lectures about responsibility and morals. Of course, all he has to do is to put on a pair of glasses, perform some heavy petting with her, and woof! She’s now declaring that he’s more responsible that she assumed (oh please) but now he is above her when it comes to station, and besides, she’s unlovable because she’s er, unlovable (damn right, missy!) so she can never acknowledge her affections for him. Or something.
She’s no prize in the intellectual department either. I count at least two incidents where she inadvertently sabotages Christian’s attempts to discover what the ghost is up to.
It doesn’t help that the prologue is from her point of view but the reader will have to wait until chapter seven (roughly a hundred pages into the story) before Abigail’s point of view comes on once more. So the reader is left to wonder why this icy and rude bitch is snapping at the hero for no reason for six chapters, and just how brain damaged or sadistic Christian has to be to consider her treatment of him “refreshing”.
Abigail’s grand rpiphany takes place in the first four pages of the last chapter. By then, it’s a case of really too late. Christian has been so patient with her, so willing to take her BS and see the best side of her even when she’s treating him so unfairly and imposing ridiculous demands on her, he is willing to pretend to be someone he’s not just to win her affections, and of course, he’s willing to take her back. He sees – or deludes himself – the human and warm side of her when she’s acting like a shrill shrew. What a wonderful guy. And what an idiot, surely.
A Man of Many Talents and an infinitely high threshold for suffering fools, Christian is a nice guy. But I finish this book wondering whether there’s a better woman for him somehow, somewhere. Deborah Simmons is a good author. Unfortunately, this book that is supposed to be her chance to shine, well, this book just isn’t a good book.