Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5038-2
Historical Romance, 2002
I seem to be reading books that are near-keepers nowadays. On one hand, I’m becoming more and more optimistic about this genre again. But I’m also frustrated. Debra Dier’s Dangerous could have been good, and the only thing holding it back is the inconsistent behavior of the heroine Emma Wakefield.
Incidentally, this one is a full of familiar plot elements and characters, but the author manages to make everything fresh and new all over again. There’s also a rather Amanda Quick-ish tone to the characterization and humor, so fans tired of that author’s delusion of romantic suspense grandeurs may try finding solace in this one.
Not that it’s not without its flaws. What will you do if your cousin sister is kidnapped and you suspect that it is the actions of the notorious Sebastian, Marquess of Andover? Well, here is Emma Wakefield’s Brainy Action 101: lead the man you suspect to be a vile, evil kidnapper to a dark, secluded place where the only thing that keeps you and he apart is a pistol you have no intention – or the nerve – to use. Emma’s logic is that – bear with me, people, this may get confusing – since Sebastian is rumored to have killed his wife, is a member of a fiendish club, and the subject of a lurid novel to boot, he must be a coward. Because only cowards kidnap helpless women, and therefore, she can scare this suspected murderer, kidnapper, and sex fiend into admitting his crimes with that silly pistol of hers.
Then she locks him up in her cellar. Sebastian is humoring her, in case you’re wondering why she wasn’t raped six times over and left for dead in the gutter by now. She confronts him alone – well, the dotty mother of Charlotte, the missing cousin, is upstairs, but she may as be alone as that old woman Marjorie is useless – and gets kissed left, right, up, and down. Then he, er, “escapes”, and she finally decides to trust him a little when he says that he will solve this case. Not that she has any choice in the matter, if you ask me. But she insists on being involved in the clue-hunting, and yes, she’s almost a walking train wreck in her involvement.
“A walking zombie is on the prowl in the streets of London,” I mutter to myself, “watch out, Jack the Ripper’s grandpa!”
But what saves this story is that while Emma can be a clueless bat at times, she’s not a complete loss. There are also a number of very good scenes where she displays acute intelligence. Sebastian is a nice hero with a balanced personality composed of angst and rakish humor, and he is a pretty fun hero. I love it when Emma, when she is lucid, delivers a blisteringly accurate speech in a brothel where she points out there is actually very little difference between men who patronize “good” brothels run by madames with hearts of gold and those who patronize the nastier brothels. In the end, the women are the ones who are used. I love Emma in that scene. She blows Sebastian’s weak “But the prostitutes I porked chose their lifestyles!” protests by pointing out just how little choices women actually have in their time.
Incidentally, this story deals quite a lot with the brothels and white slavery and all the nasty stuff in-between, and things can get quite graphic at times.
The final thing that seals it for me is that Emma and Sebastian are actually very good together. Even at Emma’s battiest and Sebastian’s most patronizing, the chemistry between them can melt icing on a cake. There is a palpable sexual tension between them that is tampered by genuine fondness, just how I like my romance stories. The whole rightness of those two makes this story ten times more readable and sunny, no matter how much Emma acts in ways that beg for villains to do her in bad.
If Emma had been consistently intelligent instead of mouthing off intermittently as if she is possessed by the spirit of some wiser woman in those scenes, this book will be indeed a thrilling ride.