by Katherine Sutcliffe, historical (2000)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-12948-8

The sociopath groupie in me (don't tell Mom) goes on ting-a-ling alert when I realize the hero of Notorious, Jason Batson, is an assassin who lives a part-time life as a British diplomat. Dark, dangerous, tormented hero - I can't resist - into the book bag this book goes.

And yes, Notorious is a dark, frank, sometimes brutal, sometimes violent, but darn-if-it-ain't-so-romantic romance. Fans of romances where everyone kisses sweetly and compromises each other only on Friday night evening balls best stay away, far far away, or the first love scene just might drive these nice readers into a shock. But readers like me who are looking for a trip where romance, danger, and thrill may not be clearly defined at times will have a grand old time.

It's just a pity Notorious fails to sustain its momentum midway into the story, or this book will be gracing my keeper shelf, right under Sociopaths R Sexy. (Don't tell Mom.)

Jason Batson, freshly released from prison (he shot a British officer when the latter shot a woman and her kid), is blackmailed into donning back the assassin robe he'd vowed never to wear again. But what can he do, the British scummy agent superiors are using his child as a pawn in this situation. He is to kill Lord Compton Fontaine, a British Viceroy whose sympathies lie a bit too much towards the local about-to-mutine Indian sepoys for the British government's comfort.

Jason plans his own counterbetrayal, of course, but not because he gets the Viceroy's daughter, Destiny, hopelessly tangled in his web of lies and deceit. And he under her spell. Who says being a 1800s James Bond is easy?

Destiny, on her part, is a more conventional heroine, i.e. Bad First Marriage, Misunderstood and Maligned by Society, and now Lives With Caring Local Non-Caucasian Staff and a few odd kind, good Caucasian old souls thrown in. When Jason drags her to India for some political fun and sun, she doesn't know whether to pucker up and accept her jollies or fight that man all the way. The man wants to do no good to her father, she can feel it. Well, if she only knows...

One thing I love about Notorious is that it never glorifies the hero. He is an assassin, and he is not misunderstood, nor is he wrongly blamed for killing. Jason knows he will burn in hell, hence he doesn't care much about life on Earth until his daughter and Destiny get threatened by Evil Forces. (Too bad his team codename is COBRA - er, GI Joe anyone?) How he finally regains his humanity via love and a healthy sex life is wonderfully done, and that alone is enough for me to recommend this book to my fellow closet sociopath romance novel hero groupies.

But there are some incongrously conventional moments that spoil the mood. Such as Destiny's surprisingly conventional - and predictable - moodswings when it comes to her feelings towards Jason. Thankfully, the longer she gets corrupted by Jason, the more fun she becomes. And all the way to the final exciting fiery scene, I find myself at the edge of my seat.

War isn't pretty, and Ms Sutcliffe never tries to mask that. She doesn't let her characters indulge in self-pity, and she makes these people strong and work to overcome obstacles instead of pretending that these characters are all sugary and sweet and nice. Notorious sees its characters redeemed and strengthened by love, and they are better for it. It sure beats all those lightweight blame-it-on-his-childhood/mother pop psychology of other more average romances out there. Notorious is dark, tempestous, romantic, and action-packed, although it stumbles at places. Not perfect, but just my type.

Rating: 89

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