Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7461-1
Historical Romance, 2003
Notorious is an apt description for the level of stupidity displayed by the characters. It can also describe the size of the holes in characterization and plot. The plot requires some stretching of credulity, but as the story progresses, I have to keep stretching my disbelief until it extends to form a noose to asphyxiate myself. None of the characters are remotely likable because they are all stupid and mean.
Countrified bluestocking Jemima MacKinnon fancies herself a ringleader for the Ladies against Deceivers Infesting Elegant Society (LADIES) Club. By this, she basically fights against slanders on poor women abandoned by their unfaithful lovers or boyfriends by publishing cartoony satires in the London papers. Her pseudonym is Jonathan Foolscap. These cartoons will uphold the truth and squander rumors of injustice. How does she fight gossips? By gathering hearsay that favors the guilty and making lampoons out of what she hears. The perverse scenario of using gossip to fight gossip makes me raise an eyebrow in surprise but that’s just the start of the problems that are to come.
She is doing this because she herself has been wronged by a man in her life. How she is wronged by her man is so over-the-top lurid yet presented in a so serious light that I don’t know what to say. Anyway, one day she comes upon a pregnant woman who spins her an amazing story of being raped by the brother of the man she loves. This rapist is alleged to be Beauregard Bellaire, the only man Jemima holds in high esteem because of his marriage of an Incomparable and his supposed paragon nature. Outraged, she decides to head down to London to settle the matter. She does this by asking the debauched cousin of hers, Julien, to sponsor her.
The bizarre contradiction of a woman who dislikes debauched rakes asking for a favor from her debauched cousin, whom she claims to be the family member she loves the most despite her knowing his debauched ways, seems to be lost on the author. I don’t know what to say. But that’s just another of the problems in this book. Jemima will go on and on and on about Evil Men and their Evil Ways but she seems unaware that the man she defends as the nicest guy ever is the greatest manslut in London. This prevalent duality in her flexible philosophy will seriously undermine her position throughout the entire story.
Beau falls in love with her. How do I know? He comes off so obnoxious when he first meets her, it must be love, surely. He may not have raped the woman in question, but he is no better as the man who encourages his brother – no, forces his brother – to discard his woman. Who did the impregnating – Beau or the brother Guy? I’ll leave it to you to find out yourself if you really must know. He also dumps his daughter in the countryside, doesn’t even have the decency to mourn the dead wife who didn’t satisfy him sexually, behaves like a high-handed insufferable ass where his brother is concerned, and is a hypocrite through and through where Jemima is concerned. Then again, Jemima is just as hypocritical – see her double standards regarding Julien.
These two labor under negative misassumptions of each other, so it is equally exasperating to read how these two aren’t just hypocritical creatures, they are also stupid as stupid comes. A simple conversation would have cleared matters, but these two just run circles around each other, dropping vague hints around, and then act offended when the other person can’t read the idiot’s mind. The hero’s brother is a very idiotic and mulish creature, and the so-called friend of Beau who is supposed to look after the brother stupidly wedges the final nail that ruins the brother completely. With friends like this, who needs enemies? Julien has less than innocent intentions in mind towards the blissfully unaware Jemima, but since he’s the only guy here smart enough to be having his fun and enjoying himself to the hilt, more power to he, I say. I am hard pressed to even name one character I find remotely likeable in this book. If they’re not stupid, they’re being disgustingly sleazy and debauched.
If the relentless misassumption between the two main characters isn’t bad enough, the author decides to punish Jemima. Actually, Jemima’s Foolscap career is operating on borrowed time and it’s just a matter of time before her flimsy modus operandi inadvertently destroys an innocent person’s life, but when this happens, it just gives Jemima another opportunity to indulge in another tedious “Me! Guilty! Me! Guilty!” moanfest.
My attitude towards Jemima and this book soften tremendously however when the woman at least displays some consistency in her principles regarding the pregnant woman Pru and the man who impregnated her. Pru isn’t demonized and the man isn’t let off the hook easy. However inconsistent Jemima may be, she is constant when it comes to matters that don’t revolve around her.
Notorious has too many problems in its plotting and characters to work and the characters’ inability to talk can raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels. However, there are some degrees of possibilities shown in this book that Laura Parker is an author who isn’t afraid to go some extra mile in her writing. After all, she makes both the man and woman accountable in a matter of casual sex gone awry – a rare occurrence in the genre where the author and the reader tend to be the hardest and most judgmental on female characters. If she can quit trying so hard to make her main characters to act stupid and contradictory and wallowing in misery, she may come out with a winner of a book one day. But that day is not today.