A Game Of Scandal
by Kathryn Smith, historical (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-050226-6

Forget the horrendous cover - although the heroine's expression on that cover art always cracks me up - and the atrocious back blurb. Kathryn Smith's A Game Of Scandal is actually a decent character-driven drama. It is only when the story runs out of steam around two-thirds into the story that trouble starts. The author tries not too successfully to introduce some conflicts (more like transparent plot contrivances, actually), bogging the whole story down.

Oh, and too much psychobabble.

Gabriel Warren and Lilith Mallory were an item once, and they did the Thing even, although rather stupidly, they did the Thing when her Momma and the whole Ton were nearby to discover them. Which Momma and friends did, incidentally. Kiddies, if you want to indulge in premarital sex, please, do it where the parents can't find you, unless your parents are the liberal, easy-going types.

Some miscommunication stuff occurs, and Lilith and Gabboo spend the next ten years still wanting each other even as they swear that they must stop thinking of the other anymore and move on with their life. In case you're wondering, it's another of those bozo Bollywood scenario where our teens just can't seem to understand it's her parents who are hiding their letters from each other. Gabboo, well, maybe he has a legit excuse - his father just died and he isn't exactly focused on her entirely at that instant.

Anyway, that's ten years ago. Today, Gabboo here is an Earl who wants an absolute ban on gaming in England. Lilith is now the owner of Mallory's, a gaming den, although Ms Smith hastily assures us readers that in this den, the dealers are clean and if you want to snog someone's wife whom you are in love with, you can do so at the rooms this gamblin' lady boss provides. When Gabboo's friend tells Gabboo that Mallory's may not be as clean as they say, Gabboo is on a warpath. Ban! Shut up! Bring back Oliver Cromwell! Then he is flabbergasted when he realizes that the Mallory woman is his long lost Mallory. So what now?

Basically, this story is essentially the drama of Gabboo and Lilith trying to put the ghosts of their last ten years to rest. What I like about this aspect of the story is that it's pretty compelling without going overboard. Gabboo has issues with his late parents, Lilith has issues with hers, and they have issues with each other too, but these issues are not your usual black and white sort. There's no easy decisions, and no one is clearly at fault. The parents did what they thought was best, and clearly, our hero and heroine ten years ago weren't much better either.

Gabboo and Lilith are pretty brainy people too, as they steadily sidestep the Big Misunderstanding trap. That's good: they talk. What's not good? They think too much. Seriously, these two people just can't stop psychoanalyzing each other. What little action the other does is dissected, second-guessed, pondered, and agonized over. Does he love her? Does she love him? Has he forgiven her when he says that? When she snaps at him that way, does that mean that she is still mad at him? Why is he here? Why is she there? He goes here, does that mean that he will be eating roast chicken for lunch? She gives him an inscrutable look - what does that look mean, or maybe she just have dust in her eyes? Are you there God?

All's good if some of these intense psychoanalyzing doesn't come off as repetitious after a while. When these two keep bringing up that Ten Years Ago thing two hundred pages into the story, I have to mutter, "Oh get on with life already, people!"

Eventually the whole psychodramatics will have to end somehow, so the author introduces external elements that seem to just pop out of the blue. Gabboo's insistence on investigating Lilith's den, long after it becomes clear that Lilith and her establishment is clean, doesn't make sense. Lilith keeps heaving and holding back sharp retorts and her eyes keep flashing that I fear she will have a meltdown soon.

Still, all will still be good if the author doesn't use the ever-handy Journals and Letters From The Past Lying About The Place (Why Didn't I Think To Look Earlier In My Ten Years Of Mama-Dramatics?) plot device. Just when I thought Lil and Gabboo will wise up, make up, and put the whole past behind them to start anew, Lil starts beating herself up for things best left in the past and starts the I'm Not Worthy blues. At this point, things can't get more contrived if Ms Smith wears a white toga and has a movable platform brings her down from the stage roof to pronounce a holy deus on us all.

Still, I like Gabboo and his Lil. Sure, they read into and think things a little too much at times that they make me yearn for a little uncomplicated quickie in this story to liven things up. Yet Ms Smith does take time to create characters that aren't exactly the usual Regency romance stock characters, and she also tries to create genuine romantic drama between Gabboo and Lil. Communication and trust play a role in this love story, and I think that's very nice. It's just too bad that the whole story seems to peter out towards the end.

Rating: 83

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