Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21248-7
Historical Romance, 2004
Lynn Kerstan’s Dangerous Deceptions is a convoluted, often illogical story where the action and suspense elements take prominence over the romance. Reading this book is like attending a party where everyone speaks in a language that I do not understand. For the first 100 pages, I have absolutely no idea what is going on. For the next 274 pages, I hope I know what is going on. It gets to a point where I wonder whether I am supposed to read some previous book to understand the story in this book. It can’t be, because this book is the start of a new trilogy.
When the story begins, “Jarrett, Lord Dering, rode his astonishing good luck the way he rode an enthusiastic woman. He gave it his all.” I think Ms Kerstan shouldn’t try too hard to be raunchy because I don’t think it is working that well. My favorite line of the entire book is this one: “But Lady Fortune had cradled him tightly between her thighs, humming a Siren’s song.” How on earth does one cradle a grown man between one’s thighs? But once I stop laughing, things become confusing.
See, Jarrett gets a mysterious invitation to attend an orgy in a house of debauchery called Xanadu. Xanadu later morphs into Paradise but I’ll stick to Xanadu because people don’t appreciate Olivia Newton-John enough. I’m just kidding. There, the star attraction Gaetana meets him and reveals that she is part of an organization called the Black Phoenix. It is only much, much later do I realize that the Black Phoenix works to rectify the injustices committed by the members of the Ton. So here I am with my hand raised from the back of the class.
Okay, let’s start with Jarrett. Why on earth would an organization like the Black Phoenix recruit a heavily debt-ridden nobleman who holds no responsibilities and spends his entire life gambling and whoring? Sure, Ms Kerstan tells me later that Jarrett has hidden depths, blah blah blah, but since when do vigilante secret societies recruit dissipated alcoholic gamblers to do their work for them? Even Gaetana (or Kate, as he calls her after the heroine of The Taming of the Shrew) thinks that Jarrett is unreliable the first time they meet and have to work together, which is a fair assumption considering how Jarrett doesn’t take her seriously and pushes her buttons just because he can. So what gives, really?
Two, there are two incidents involving women who deliberately sold themselves to the highest bidder, only to look at Jarrett and expect him to “buy” them out and let them off easy. One of these women is Kate, who tells Jarrett that she will sell herself in an auction to keep up pretense that she is the star harlot of Xanadu and expects Jarrett (whom she accuses of being unreliable) to buy her and therefore save her from a lot of trouble. Can anyone tell me with a straight face that this is how intelligent female agents carry out their undercover work?
Three, for God’s sake, why would Kate take on the role of the star attraction of Xanadu if she wants to remain undercover? Won’t that be too obvious and makes her stand out too much among the crowd? It is much later when it is revealed that her target is a fiend who is linked to Xanadu, but that really doesn’t justify the risks Kate faces in such a high-profile role. Won’t it make sense to go undercover as a saucy maid or one of the less high-profile girls of Xanadu?
Four, why do these two even need to meet at Xanadu when Jarrett don’t even know what is going on? Can’t they meet in somewhere else quiet and conducive for a talk? Oh, I think I know why. We won’t have a contrived “Oops, we meet at the bedroom!” scene if Ms Kerstan doesn’t have those two meet at Xanadu.
The rest of the plot is dime-novel potboiler stuff set in the Regency era. Everyone wants a piece of Kate, ooh! Kate and Jarrett have to pretend at being lovers, ooh! Wait, they really are lovers, ooh! Jarrett has to pretend to be mean at Kate to fit in! Will other people be encouraged to be mean at Kate too? Stay tuned because there is nothing that screams “suspense” more than a hoard of lecherous pigs wanting to molest our heroine!
On the bright side, while the plot becomes more lurid with the turn of the page (possible children sacrifice, ooh, Satan worship, waaah), Kate can take care of herself. She is often too reckless for her own good though. Jarrett on the other hand is rather slow on the uptake but he displays more caution than Kate so those two balance each other’s weaknesses and strengths nicely. They will make a nice team in a less formulaic suspense story.
For a plot that takes too long to illuminate me on what is going on, the resolution is ridiculously simplistic and dumbed-down compared to the tortuous twists and turns Ms Kerstan introduces into her story. (Hint: it involves yet another clue coded into a book.) The romance is more of an abrupt shift from the characters being pretend-lovers to actual-lovers, with Ms Kerstan telling me more than showing me why those two can actually be falling in love. That is to be expected, I guess, seeing how Ms Kerstan seems more interested in setting up the external conflicts in the story. But there are too many inconsistencies or ill-explained moments in the story. That coupled with Ms Kerstan’s awkward attempts at writing in a raunchy manner (see the incredible cradling thighs of Lady Fortune, above) makes Dangerous Deceptions an unsatisfying story where the suspense has more red herrings than actual suspense and the romance is too dry to satisfy. There is plenty of sleaze and skanky stuff though. As a result, it’s neither here nor there where both suspense and romance are concerned.