by Johanna Lindsey, historical (2006)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 1-4165-0546-6
It seems like a rule, doesn't it, that the more successful an author is, the more her books seem to be increasingly written by her fourteen-year old ghostwriter niece who has visited her during the school holidays? That will explain the tidal wave of illogicalities and implausibilities that plague this story.
The hero Sebastian Townsend ends up sleeping with the wife of his buddy Giles, which results in a duel that sees Sebastian, er, accidentally (really) putting a bullet right through Giles' heart. Sebastian, guilt-stricken over killing Giles, is soon disowned by his father. So what does our hero do? Become a mercenery under the name Henry Raven so that he can continue going around doing things that will make him feel even more miserable? I suppose it is too much to expect him to realize that his inability to keep his pants on and his Pavlovian tendency to boink any woman in sight are the cause of his situation, much less hope that he will join a monastery and start composing chorale pieces.
Cut to eleven years later. Sebastian's own father is soon being plagued by mysterious "accidents", causing the neighbor's daughter, Margaret Landor, who is on what seems like a perpetual shopping trip in Europe, to seek out the Raven to get this Raven to help her locate the estranged son of the Earl. Margaret suspects that Sebastian's younger brother Denton and Denton's wife may be behind these "accidents" since those two would love to get their hands on the family fortune. She soon learns that the Raven and the estranged son are one and the same and agrees to Sebastian's outrageous fee of a hundred thousand pounds to get him to look into the case. Sebastian just wants to scare that silly woman off with his outrageous demands, but he is attracted to Margaret, which complicates matter. How convenient for him that they both decide that the best way to infiltrate the Townsend household is for the two of them to pose as a married couple.
Nothing makes sense in this story. Why is Margaret so willing to compromise herself in a fake marriage and all just to help a mere neighbor? And really, do those two nitwits really need to pose as a married couple in the first place? I don't want to go into spoilers, but the suspense external subplot has a "revelation" that will only muddle the story even more. Even the relationship between Sebastian and Margaret don't make much sense. Apart from the fact that she has a little girl crush on Sebastian more than a decade ago, there is nothing to explain Margaret's attraction to a boor like Sebastian unless I'm to view Margaret as that stupid prepubescent girl who has never grown up. The attraction on Sebastian's part seems entirely due to his Pavlovian tendency to wag the doggie at any female in sight - his first love scene with Margaret is not at all romantic as she says no and he just rams right in anyway because he knows she really means yes.
I'm not bothered by the historical inaccuracies here as much as some readers. I am however annoyed by how Margaret and Sebastian are behaving like bickering children when they are assuming that the other doesn't love them. Oh, they must never show the other person their true feelings even as they try to drive the other person away for their own good! This is exactly the contrived plot development that I never liked and never will because it's clear that the author is just doing things in her story to set up conflict without caring the impact of her plot developments on character and plot continuity and plausibility. Furthermore, nothing about Margaret and Sebastian make much sense when it comes to their motivations, actions, and thought patterns, so really, do we need to have them behave as irritating as possible in the same time?
I suppose I have to mention something nice about this book. Well, the author has a nice fluid way to telling a story - as usual - so in a way, reading this book is like listening to a rambling but beloved grandmother telling a bedtime story. It's clear that grandma is making things up as she goes along, however, so it's up to the reader whether she wants to be amused or not with the story.
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