LoveSpell, $5.50, ISBN 0-505-52437-6
Historical Romance, 2001
I think it is film critic Roger Ebert who said that it is not funny to see stupid people getting into trouble. The reason why he finds that movie There’s Something about Mary funny is because both the characters played by Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller are reasonably intelligent people who could get out of trouble if they could see it coming. They couldn’t, and that’s funny.
I have to agree with him there. In Lisa Cach’s The Mermaid of Penperro, the humor comes in the form of the merciless humiliation of the heroine’s stepson John Bugg II and the “villain”, a bumbling, simple-minded Preventive Water Guard officer named Foweather. From their names to all sorts of tomfoolery they get into, they obviously have no clue what is going on. Hence, the whole “Look, aren’t these two doofuses stupid?” routine gets old after a while. Bugg and Foweather are stupid, it’s obvious. It’s not a joke anymore. And when Foweather’s distress is caused by our hero and heroine, the latter two come off as rather petty.
Konstanze may be the daughter of an opera singer, but she is pretty sheltered about life. Married to an impotent brute whose idea of sex involves whips and leather, she finally has had enough one day and takes off with a faithful German maid to Penperro. She has inherited a nice little shack there, and her husband has no idea it exists. Maybe now she can live in peace far away from her husband and her odious stepson.
But things in Penperro aren’t as tranquil as they seem. Penperro’s number one trade is smuggling. When the Preventive Water Guards start swarming the area looking for smugglers, naturally the locals aren’t happy. Tom Trewalla is one of the smarter (and cuter) smuggler coordinators and he has a plan. One day, Foweather mistakes Konstanze for a mermaid (she was singing and bathing in her birthday skimpies). Tom and everyone will use this delusion of Foweather to distract the man away from their smuggling activities.
This plan involves Tom and Konstanze mostly in a boat, her singing and he rowing as they happily let the Preventice Water Guards give chase. Of course, mermaids wear skimpy costumes, and Tom already has an unnatural fixation on Konstanze’s kitties. What is it they say about being stuck in closed, cold quarters together?
Konstanze is an interesting heroine, as is the whole mermaid premise. Indeed, there is no overdone same old, same old in The Mermaid of Penperro, it is a cute story about two charming people falling in love. But I find the humor a bit off though. I laugh when John Bugg II gets robbed silly in an inn. But once it becomes evident that he is a moron, reading about his getting the clap and flustering around like a giant headless chicken – that isn’t funny anymore. Likewise, I feel more pity than anything else for Foweather. Everyone says he is a nice man, and I think he is a nice man who is just trying to do his job. His fervent proclamation of his, er, love and devotion to the “mermaid” is rather touching, in fact.
A part of me wonders how the story will turn out if Foweather and Konstanze fall in love. But hey, that’s just me. I always have a thing for underdogs. Ms Cach, by setting the lines down straight so early in the story (Foweather, Buffoon vs Tom, Smart Aleck), makes Foweather the underdog in my eyes.
I like The Mermaid of Penperro. It’s refreshingly original and charming, and the lyrical atmosphere of the seaside is well done. But I can’t help wishing that the author has made the humor less obvious, less “from Point A to point B”. Probably it’s only fussy old me having this problem, but still, I can’t help wishing poor Foweather gets an overall better treatment in this story.