MIRA, $7.99, ISBN 0-7783-2148-7
Historical Romance, 2005
Stella Cameron is fast approaching Catherine Coulter territory, if she hasn’t already, in her latest, Testing Miss Toogood. I can practically see the author’s interest in her story waning once she has used up her repertoire of “funny” injokes in this story. The result is a book that starts out eccentrically but still readable only to peter out until the truly mechanical denouement.
From the first page, Ms Cameron’s attempts to show the reader how witty she is – more like how obvious, actually – flies fast and hard like pies from the clown circus targeting the faces of the members of the circus audience. Our heroine Fleur Toogood (haw, haw, haw, so funny) is the second daughter of the country parson. She is, of course, beautiful only that she would like to insist that she isn’t and she also wants to marry for love. She has this list of traits that a man who will marry her must have and she has turned away many men because they do not meet the requirements on her list. Her family sends the reluctant Fleur off to London so that an old family friend will introduce her to the Ton.
This old friend, the Dowager Marchioness of Granville, wants her son Dominic Elliot to show Fleur around and teach her some social skills while he’s at it. You can guess what would happen to Dominic and Fleur, I’m sure. Dominic enters this duty very reluctantly because he is trying to discover a villain who is kidnapping young girls of society into compromising situations and then blackmailing the family to keep the scandal a secret. Dominic is not a secret agent but that doesn’t stop him from being some kind of Bruce Wayne and assuming the identity of “Brother Juste”. Fleur eventually discovers Dominic’s mission and decides that he can’t do without her help.
On their own, Dominic and Fleur are actually decent, if stereotypical, characters. Fleur is an eccentric with a mix of worldly kookiness and sexual innocence (the innocence, I suppose, is compulsory) but she often makes reasonably intelligent decisions, a far cry from too-stupid creatures these kind of heroines tend to be. Dominic is a familiar hero with his arrogance and take-charge attitude, and their romance is also familiar territory with him getting jealous when other men start sniffing around her.
But while the story initially starts off with bounce and pizazz, things become more mechanical and routine later on, as if the author just wants the story to be done with because she has no more interest in the main characters. Sex is passed off as “romantic developments” and the suspense turns out to a long and tedious exercise in waiting for the hero to identify the villain that the reader has deduced correctly at least a hundred pages ago. Everything about the suspense feels like a weak joke and by the time the main characters declare their love, their relationship has been cheapened by too many obvious-filler sex scenes that the chemistry has long been diluted by that time.
Maybe a short story would be better the next time around?