A Touch So Wicked
by Connie Mason, historical (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80803-X

Gosh, Connie Mason has delivered a surprisingly well written story in A Touch So Wicked. Someone uncork the champagne. Okay, sopranos, tenors, altos, basses, altogether now: "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" (For best effects, do imagine everybody going Hendel's Messiah while reading this review.)

What did you say? What's this about the apocalypse? You people are so nasty. Fine, run off and hide. How could you people be so unkind to Connie Mason?

Okay, okay, seriously, this book is well-written in that only a few really dumb dialogues and sentences find their way in this story. Maybe Granny Mason's creative juices have kicked into action now that she is a NYT bestseller now. Or maybe she has attended some RWA writing classes or become Judith Ivory's... okay, not Judith Ivory, maybe one of those Highland Fling midlist authors' critique buddy. Or maybe it is just the Avon editor - wish you were here, darling, instead of over there struggling with Granny Mason's first draft - getting an extra cask of Ribena for Christmas. Whatever the reason, this book is very readable in a not so lurid way.

Of course it's still dumb. The heroine is as dumb, the hero is dumb, and the whole drama and romance are dumb. But there's actually some history, some attempts to tie the romance rather successfully with political turmoils of mid-18th century Scotland. The so-called Scottish accent run all over the place worse than a baby's runny nose, but at least there's an attempt to go all "ye" and "dinnae". This is scary. Granny Mason is getting better.

Our hero is the usual landless knight, best friend to the king because he has once saved the king, et cetera dude named Damian Stratton. Quick, guess his obligatory Scary Moniker, Yup, Demon Knight. How original. He is given the lands of Misterly in Scotland as long as he can stop the marriage of Elissa Fraser, Maiden of Misterly, to some Scots rebel that will no doubt cause more trouble to King George.

So our hero marches to Misterly, where he and his armed men find the place devoid of any capable men. It's always that way. Heroine inherits a castle from Daddy Dearest and fills it with nannies, old bodyguards, and kiddies, but never capable men-of-arms. Nonetheless, Damian suspects a trap - all Highlanders are bastards because a Highlander murdered his father - and harrasses all the old folks and kiddies in his way. Until Elissa comes forward - alone, unarmed - and demands that he cease his bullying ways, I mean, heroic alpha ways at once.

What happens next is best described as a complete penile explosion as Damian sees Elissa and completely goes into heat. But he has orders to send Elissa, her sister, and her mother to some convent. So he bludgeons Elissa with his kong stick using her mother's ill health as a bargaining tool, and even as his kong stick ignites like firecrackers on Independence Day, he plans to marry that Other Woman of his. Meanwhile, Elissa is the usual braindead heroine who doesn't know what she can do, but she will defy the hero any way she can just to assert her Scottish pride. No clue, no strategy, just temper and hot air all around. Rubbish. At one point, she decides that she will be a Scottish outlaw. Why? Because she will be free! This is like saying I want to start robbing banks because I want to be free.

Of course, the author then puts in the Bitch Other Woman, the Nanny Matchmaker from Hell with Visions (tell me what you call a Scots woman who demands, bullies, and harasses her "beloved" Elissa into sleeping with an Englishman because she sees "visions"), and the Other Man who seems like a better catch than the hero (but the hero, a bully and a braindead rutting moron, is always the better man in the end) and other favorite Mason Majority Characters. A healthy dose of big and small misunderstandings is thrown in for good measure.

There's also some attempt to make our hero interact with kids for the usual Family Awww moments. Granny Mason's bullying, bitch-harassing, trailer trash sex fiend heroes and kids in the same space and time is just a tragedy waiting to happen, however, so let's not go there.

But it's not as bad a read as it can be. While all the characters display the thinking ability of a Cro-Magnon gnat, the writing is clean and readable. There's not much campiness to be made fun of, only stupidity, and I don't know if this is a good thing or not. I mean, Granny Mason means business with A Touch So Wicked, she wants to be a Superleader. Maybe even go all $6.99 and hardcover. After all, Stephanie Laurens, that young upstart, commands $7.50 a book now. Poor Granny Mason, who has been writing for ages, can't even get a $6.50 price tag. No doubt this book is a start of a new era of Granny Mason's world domination strategy. If she keeps improving on this - or the editor doesn't get a nervous breakdown soon - she may just well succeed. I mean, Stephanie Laurens did it, after all.

I think I just spooked myself.

Rating: 61

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