Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7423-9
Historical Romance, 2004
Just Impossible is the story of William Thorne, the Duke of Berinwick who appeared in the author’s previous books in her Just series. It is a book that is very similar to a traditional Regency in terms of dialogue, atmosphere, structure, and (non-existent) sensuality.
This one has a hero who is missing an eye thanks to a childhood mishap and is shunned by his peers because of his appearance, but I would hesitate to classify him as “tortured”. He’s gallant, he’s sweet, and he’s prone to long epic expositional speeches, the latter being the author’s main method of allowing readers new to the series to catch up with her story. Berinwick, whose title is just begging for a dirty joke to be thrown his way, meets our heroine Julia Delacroix when she comes to him to sell him a family heirloom (a silver lion statuette) to finance her cousin’s debut in London. Confused? Don’t worry, Berinwick will launch into a long speech about why that heirloom is important to him. He’s very nice to readers that way and will no doubt be an asset to have at a dining table in, say, Italy when one doesn’t understand Italian and needs someone to explain what those squiggly things drowning in cream really are. He’ll even explain how the recipe came to be. Assuming that Berinwick can speak Italian, that is.
Berinwick pays Julia three thousand pounds as well as the use of his London townhouse for Julia and Julia’s cousin Emma when Emma makes her debut in London. Captivated by Julia but puzzled by her melancholic moods, he manages to persuade her into confiding in him the source of her problems. And what a shocker that is: Julia has a second reason to be in London, and that is to discover the murderer of her sister and kill that bastard. Being a gentleman who comes to the rescue of a future-vigilante, Berinwick follows Julia to London (using the pretext of introducing his ward George to society) to keep an eye out for Julia, Emma, and, er, especially on Julia. Things heat up between our amateur investigators and put a screeching halt on their Nancy Drew a Hardy Boy games when Berinwick stupidly and accidentally blabs out Julia’s mission to someone else, this someone else tells another, and so forth until London is agog with delight at the latest infamy to hit town.
I adore some parts of this book. Berinwick is a gem. He had me the moment he tells Julia when he learns of her quest:
“I am the Beast from Barren Wycche. I am impertinent, audacious and feared. I possess enormous power and cunning and a rapier more deadly than any pistol. And though I cannot explain why, I find that I am at your service, body and soul. By gawd, woman, make use of me!”
Of course, this being a genteel historical, Julia doesn’t take up that “make use of me” invitation like one would expect. What a pity, that would have livened things up a bit.
The mystery is a let-down because the author gives away enough hints from the start to keep things predictable. Couple that to the really slow development of the main couple’s relationship and very, very little sexual tension and I get a book which isn’t my cup of tea, so to speak. Emma and George’s secondary romance is to be expected, while Berinwick and Julia get to have a few nicely done romantic quiet scenes of their own. But despite the charming hero, some amusing comedy, and some well-done romantic scenes, Just Impossible is more wordy than wise, thanks to dialogues that often feel more staged than natural and some paranormal elements that don’t really gel with the rest of the story. I guess it’s just the traditional Regency non-fan in me speaking here, but it is really hard to fully get into a story where even the charming hero comes off like a cute puppy instead of a sexual character that one would, er, be tempted to make use of. This book is sweet but just not my thing.