The Reluctant Reformer
by Lynsay Sands, historical (2002)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-4974-0

Reading The Reluctant Reformer, I am reminded of why Lynsay Sands used to be fun. Her brand of low-brow slapstick humor can be very effective. But in her last few books, she gets derailed trying too hard to be funny at the expense of a credible plot. The Reluctant Reformer has almost a decent plot. If the heroine isn't so clueless and if this cluelessness isn't the plot, The Reluctant Reformer would've been Ms Sands' triumphant return.

Still, it's a pretty good read nonetheless. If one can get over the plot, which is over-the-top even for Lynsay Sands.

James Huttledon, Lord Ramsey, is shocked. He has hired a Bow Street Runner to track down the sister of the man who took a bullet meant for James in the War (guess which war it is, hint: fat, short frog general) , but the Runner delivers the news that Lady Margaret Wentworth is moonlighting in a brothel as the infamous prostitute Lady X! Ohmigod, has Gerald's death caused the poor gal to sink so low? He must rescue her at once, before it gets around that Marge here is Lady X and she is Ruined Forever.

Actually, Marge is at a brothel (the same one where the Runner follows her to) interviewing prostitutes. She's actually a reporter for a newspaper, a job she takes up in secret to support her large home and staff. (Ms Sands' reason for Marge not selling that white elephant? It's what's left of Marge's brother, so Marge, even if she has thought of selling, just couldn't. Maybe Marge can chip away at the stone walls and feed everybody rubble for dinner.) In a case of mistaken identity (you have to read this yourself to believe it), she ends up in a see-through very brief red dress that highlights her cleavage very effectively (see book cover - now I know why that eight year old boy sitting opposite me on the subway train was staring so wide-eyed at my book. I thought he was just ogling sexy old me.) and James soon believes that his suspicions are correct. Poor Marge - she's Lady X!

Marge is kidnapped and dragged to James' house, where he tells her that he will get her a new life and/or career. Marge believes that he means sacking her from the newspaper job and refuses to obey him. It's catfight time, people.

This misunderstanding (he thinks she's Lady X, she thinks he knows she's a reporter) is the plot, and while it does generate some mildly amusing scenes of Miss Thing here throwing temper tantrums all around, it drags after a while. Only during the middle of the story is this misunderstanding cleared, but that means Miss Thing will now flounce off in a huff because he thinks her a whore.

Still, it's not as painful as it could be. Miss Thing may be all hot air, but she is kinda charming because most of the time she does have the right intentions, only she does everything wrong. James is arrogant, but he's a good man at heart, and his reluctant rescue acts are pretty cute. And there is chemistry between those two. Ms Sands has toned down the excessive slapstick of her last few books and give her heroine a brain - somewhat.

While The Reluctant Reformer can't match the best of Lynsay Sands' books (The Switch and The Key), it does try and partially succeeds. Maybe this author will recapture the magic fully in her next book and restore the respect to Lowbrow Funny Romance once more.

Rating: 80

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