A Merry Chase
by Victoria Malvey, historical (2000)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-671-77525-1

A Merry Chase features a battle-of-wits between Royce Van Cleef, the Earl of Tewksbury, and Lady Laurel Simmons, the daughter of the Earl of Sewley. Royce wagers his buddies that the best way to catch an adoring girlfriend - and wife - is to treat the whole thing like a fox hunt. Learn her weaknesses and zone in and - wham! His buddies betted that his techniques wouldn't work on cool, unattainable Laurel, and naturally our hero accepts the wager. It's time he get married and start a nursery anyway.

Laurel has been hurt by a Bad Ex before, and is wary about Royce, but she succumbs to the smoothie's charms like ice cream under hot sun. Until she learns of the wager, that is. Uh oh.

Now, make no mistake, AMC has some fun moments. Laurel and Royce indulge in some witty chuckle-inducing repartees. But let's face it - the battle lines are drawn and set since page one. The author let it clear from early on that there is no doubt who will be the victor - Royce. Laurel is too soft-hearted, willing to swallow everything Royce tells her, and she is at least two steps behind Royce all the time. It's just a matter of when she would succumb. Much of the thrill of anticipation is gone the moment Royce lets me know that he has the upper hand.

Then the story is absolutely ruined by the presence of three cardboard villians who oppose our two lovebirds' marriage for the usual reasons. The psychotic momma-in-law, the money-mad Other Man, and the man-hungry Other Woman all conspire to destroy one or the other of our two lead characters in all ways ludicrous and predictable. These villians have much substance as the rumor that I am actually Jennifer Lopez's body double when she goes onscreen in her skimpies, and as fun as watching Jennifer Lopez trying to croak out a song.

The increasingly feverish pitch of unrealism and Huh melodrama increases when all three graduates of the Wild E Cayote College of Tomfoolery combine forces. Poor Laurel and Royce, they really do deserve a story with an external plot that isn't mired in such trite, overused contrivances. As it is, AMC isn't a bad read - it has its moments - but it doesn't stand out either.

Rating: 76

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