A Rogue's Pleasure
by Hope Tarr, historical (2000)
Jove (A Seduction Romance), $5.99, ISBN 0-515-12951-8

My dear Miss Bellamy:

I have your brother. I've plucked the lad from the London Road like an overripe plum to be my guest for the month. The price of my hospitality - and his release? Five hundred pounds to be delivered by you at midnight on the thirtieth.

Instead of a search-and-destroy mission on the worst overwrought poets and authors wannabe in the area, our heroine Chelsea Bellamy (bluestocking, schooled in Maths, still cries whenever she remembers dead Daddy, feels guilty because she wasn't there to say bye bye when her brother went to London - now it's so, like, her fault he is kidnapped!) takes up highwaywomanhood instead.

I don't get these women. If they are so smart and schooled in all sorts of mathematical and economic skills, why don't they just start some sort of con instead of harrying around midnight trying to rob people?

Especially when it's obvious from early on that not only Chelsea can't shoot anyone to save her hide, she also selectively chooses her victims (i.e. robs only the annoying matrons and rich strangers, spares the nice old ladies). And of course, she feels guilty. Very, very guilty. Yay. Now I can continue reading with my conscience clear.

She robs Anthony Grenville one night (former War hero, Viscount, engaged to a boring debutante, bored with the Season) and Anthony sees right away that "One-Eyed Jack" is a woman. He is also impressed with her "intelligence" (I really don't see how, and the author makes the mistake in assuming that since I'm told that, I don't need to be shown Chelsea's intelligence.)

He courts her - "Sleep with me or die hanging!" - and wooes her. They solve the mystery of the bad kidnapper. The end.

I do try to give leverage to this book. It is, after all, a debut (I think) from a first-time author. But really, A Rogue's Pleasure suffers from lack of focus and characters that act more in sync with plot requirements than in character. And the very familiar plot elements weaken further an already pretty weak story.

For instance, the momentum. It stops somewhere around Chapter Three and never gets any push from thereon. The author makes a big mistake in letting me know early her disapproval of Chelsea's thieving lifestyle (very big mistake), which makes me wonder why she even bothered to introduce such a plot element in the first place. Then when the highwayman issue is tossed out in favor of a more conventional solve-the-mystery romp, things get weaker.

Chelsea? Annoyingly indecisive and strictly a cardboard virtue-and-nothing-else heroine. Anthony? Stock hero. Both will be tolerable if they stay in character, but they don't. For instance, after a very early hands-on introduction (literally), they immediately switch from heavy-breathing mode to bickering mode. Just like that - snap! Chelsea doesn't seem to be aware that she has just experienced her first orgasm, he doesn't seem to be aware that he has almost blasted his firecracker. After orgasm, comes the bickering.

Things get pretty unconvincing when the hormones seem to surge only when the plot requires it and get shut off the moment orgasms need to be thrown out of the window.

And when things should get better, Anthony realizes there is still a long, long way to go before the epilogue, so he throws in a I'm not good enough for her even after I've slept with her and make sure she's crazy about me angle. Did I sigh and say, "You touching, noble man?" Give me a sedative if I do, no, instead I exploded, "Aaargh! Do we need yet another plot contrivance in this story?!"

A Rogue's Pleasure passes my readibility test, and the love scenes can get very steamy at places. But as a strong debut, it comes up short. It reads like a pale, diluted tribute to the much superior romances it strives so hard (too hard) to emulate. Maybe Ms Tarr should try searching for her own voice and style instead, instead of trying to cram in everything and anything in a book and ending up nowhere.

Rating: 58

PS: What's up with the One-Eyed Jack thing anyway? Sounds like a name a man would give his thingie. If I'm in the mood to be funny, I would say this story of Anthony chasing after One-Eyed Jack for his happy ending may as well be a metaphor for a man's budding friendship with Viagra.

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