by Kasey Michaels, historical (1999)
Warner, $6.50, ISBN 0-446-60683-9

Reading Kasey Michaels' books is akin to watching a play where you are more enthralled with the conversation and characters than the plot. Which is a good thing considering Ms Michaels has a delightful way with words. And if one is looking for wit and humor in a story, Escapade more than delivers.

It is a good thing I didn't do what I almost did after reading the first few chapters. I almost put the book down in disgust. Perhaps I better describe the story a bit more first.

Miss Caledonia Johnston is out on a mission of vengeance - to shoot Noel Kinsey the Captain Sharp who has ruined her family fortunes in the knee. She drags along her meek and absent-upstairs friend Lester Plum and sneaks into a carriage, intending to confront Noel. Only it turns out she is in the wrong carriage. Simon, Viscount Brocton, is amused and irritated by this woman. When he discovers that she is out to get his own intended target and hence will jeopardize all his well-laid plans, Simon hastily concocted a plan to get her out of the way. He tricks her into believing she would be his ally in bringing down Noel, get her prettied and lady-ied up in the grand tradition of My Fair Lady, and have her running around the ballrooms of London distracting everyone - and Noel.

Now, I have some rather high tolerance for reckless behavior on the heroine's part, but Cal, as far as I'm concerned, has left her brains way back at the country. Sneaking into a man's carriage, a man you know is dangerous, just to shoot him in the knee? Protected by a dim-witted man who would rather eat liquorice sticks than anything else? Not exactly what I call intelligent behavior. Trouble is, Cal is supposed to be almost 19 but acts 15. She is supposed to have lived on her wits after her family's downturn in fortune, but I have yet to see evidence of those even at the last page. Between tantrum sulks and childish behaviors, I am hard-pressed to be amused at anything she does.

Which makes Simon's attraction to her rather creepy in nature. He keeps calling her child after all. Why would any mature 30-something man want to shackle up with such a young immature chit? Like Indiscreet, Kasey's last book, I never get the impression that the attraction is anything but physical. She's beautiful, he's handsome. Yet Indiscreet works wonderfully because of the intriguing, devious-for-her-age Sophie Winstead and Bram's delicious thawing. In this book, Simon talks and talks and talks and generally acts befuddled by the going-ons around him. Supposedly a practical, intelligent man hiding behind a mask of calculated dandification, he, unfortunately, has little charisma as a hero. Wickedly witty, yes. Memorable? No.

The romance isn't much either. Cal and Simon generated so little sexual tension or anything that I'm sure my broken down blender has more sparks than they. They act more like a pair of bickering siblings that the one and only love scene - at the last three pages! - feels almost obscenely out of place.

But I do like this book. Not because of the romance, but because the secondary characters just shine through. Simon's mother Imogen is wonderful as a feisty woman who just refuses to act her age. She intends to find herself a husband because, as she told Cal, she's tired of sleeping alone and ogling stablehands is undignified at her age. She is also a die-hard food addict who just couldn't resist pastries and candies. She finds an adorable gastrointestinal soulmate (the author's words!) in Lester, a sweet absent-minded simpleton who just wanted to be left alone to his food. His first foray into Almacks is hilarious! Between Lester and Imogen coddling Cal and eating all sort of food I am hard-pressed to keep my ribs from bursting.

Simon's friends, a mysterious rogue named Armand, and a wry, pessimistic Bones who looks like his nickname are hilarious characters too, way outshining the hero. I adore Bones, with his gloomy outlook and dry, witty, cynical utterances. If I have my way, Bones - thin as rail and skeletal-looking, will have his own story. Bones is way more interesting than Simon!

I cannot wax lyrical enough about the abundance of funny lines abound in this story. Definitely a laugh-out-loud experience, this book. This and the wonderful secondary characters are what keeping this book from being chucked into the Return to UBS bin.

Rating: 60

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