MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2020-0
Historical Romance, 2004
Stella Cameron, like Catherine Coulter, seems to have given up at being an author and instead plays the Queen of Hearts in her own stories, littering her stories with gimmicky characters that are nothing more than a chance for Ms Cameron to wow the world with her startling wit. Usually this may seem acceptable coming from, say, Elvis the later years or from anyone who has a huge following of fanatical fans that will willingly convert to any new religion this person feels like starting. Stella Cameron hasn’t reached that stage of iconoclastic grandeur in her career, has she? A Useful Affair is not as cluttered and discordant as her Mayfair Square series, but it’s a discordantly showy story all the same.
Hattie Leggit lives in fear of her husband Bernard. She had to marry this rich merchant to pay off her family’s debts and is now only realizing the extent of the man’s depravity. She hoards money to escape this man one day. When that charming John Elliot, a Marquess, moves in on her and she realizes that he has an ax to grind with her husband, she decides to ally herself with him. See, years ago when John is still a brat, Bernard arranged for him and his sister Chloe to be killed at sea. A smuggler, Albert (who now aids John by playing his valet), and the moll Snowdrop (who’s, er, Snowdrop) save the kids and now John wants revenge on Bernard. Anyway, John soon abandons his plans for seduction when he realizes that Hattie is just a victim in the scheme of things. But Hattie has something Bernard wants very badly and Bernard won’t give her up.
There is a good story in here, if the author hasn’t gone overboard with her self-indulgent ego-trip. This book is filled with pointless sequel-baits that really have nothing to do with the story – they are just there to, er, dazzle me or something, I guess. The characters here are barely characters as much as walking gimmicks of Wit and Dazzle that Ms Cameron thinks are shooting from her fingertips to light up the pages like the new Stella Cameron Appreciation Parade taking over the world. People don’t talk, they snarl or chortle. People don’t move, they practically leap out of the pages to grab me by my throat and insist that I see how fabulous Ms Cameron is to create such amazingly over-the-top and loud characters. The story sacrifices substance for moments of showy skank or pointless tomfoolery, characterization for attention-grabbing window-dressers, and coherence for extravagant pointless displays of the author’s idea of dazzling wit. The potentials and possibilities are there in A Useful Affair, but it’s just too bad that the author seems to believe that this book will float on water and that is enough to compel me to love this book to pieces.