Cat And The Countess
by Casey Claybourne, historical (2000)
Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-17335-6

A kleptomaniac countess meets the wild half-breed from America. Sounds like a fun, multicultural romance, yes? It's too bad that the author, instead of bringing up interesting cultural clashes, sweeps the discrepancies between the two leads' lifestyle under the rug in favor of the more conventional external-plot-brings-us-together formula.

Oh, and it also doesn't bode well that the two main female characters in this story are either too stupid to live or reminding me of a magpie.

The magpie is Elizabeth Langham, the Countess of Pemsley. She happens to be in the same shop as our half-Scots half-Delaware Indian hunk called Niankwe "Wildcat" McInnes. Her dainty fingers sneak into Wildcat's lower posterior in a sneaky attempt to steal a bob or two while coping a feel (Lizzie dear, you must teach me how you do that hand thing before I head for the post-Oscars party). Naturally she gets caught, but our hero lets her go, thinking her one of those fast hussies who love feeling up an unusual and strapped guy.

When he discovers his missing bandolier bag later, he realizes that appealing minx must have taken it. Oh, wait until he gets his hands on her!

And Lizzie, meanwhile, dithers and wrings her hands as she wonders whether her suitor Peter Ballantine, the Marquess of Cresting, would propose. When the stupid one, Peter's sister Valerie, gets deflowered and loses her mother's prized jewels in the process (I mean jewel jewel, thankyouverymuch!), Lizzie decides there is only one man she can turn to for help. No, not the Runners, silly - Wildcat!

That's the least of the complicated plot twists and turns that would eventually swamp this story down.

Actually Ms Claybourne can write well and she has a way with words, but I really wish she would stop relying on wimpy heroines and long, drawn-out external conflicts to keep the story going. Elizabeth worries and whines and dithers and hesitates - WhatdoIdoohmigodhowcanIdoitcanIdoitshouldI-
- to the point of overkill. I'm glad Peter, a nice sensible gentleman who should know better, doesn't end up with Countess Peabrain, sorry, Pemsley. And Valerie, don't get me started on her. All teenage girls thinking of doing it take note - there are far better ways to wake up feeling remorseful and realizing that your Mother is right ("Never throw away for free what they can buy!") than to emulate Valerie's footsteps. At least don't try to do a Kate Winslet and wear a large diamond while posing naked for an art session.

And Wildcat, oh dear. That man parades around both on the streets and in drawing rooms in full ceremonial Indian regalia. In a time where the average fishmonger's perception of Indians (if he recognizes Wildcat as one, that is) is probably lurid tales of cannibalism and head-hunting, it is sure nice of him and the tradespeople to even let Wildcat into their shops. And somehow the society matrons have grown stronger in their nerves to accept Wildcat so easily. Perhaps they have stocks in the local smelling salt company.

I don't get it - why make the hero a potentially interesting hero only to let the whole story go on with little focus on his fish-out-of-water situation? Lost jewels, whiny women, and stupid women getting deflowered and robbed at the same time aren't more interesting. If the author didn't have Wildcat thinking the odd phrase or two in his native tongue, I would've forgotten he's not British.

Whatever it is, Cat And The Countess has great potential to be a fine romance. Instead, it just loses the plot completely, taking the easy way out by throwing in one Dastardly Plot after another for our hero and heroine, hoping that they'll be so tired at the end of the day that they'll just fall in love. You know, that is done much better in Speed.

Rating: 60

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