Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-264249-3
Historical Romance, 2016
“Lawful stupid” is a term popularly used in the fantasy genre, especially among tabletop gaming folks, to describe twits who are so by the book and law abiding to the point of destructive stupidity. Think, oh, all the superheroes who refuse to harm anyone, so they keep letting the villains go free to pillage and murder.
My favorite example of lawful stupid is found in this old Tamil movie I caught ages ago, which saw the hero tearfully standing still, upright, making a salute even as he watched his wife get gang-raped to death by the villains. Why on earth would he just stand there, you ask? The villains brought with them a big-ass radio, on which they played the Indian national anthem on loop. Our hero, a cop, of course had to stand still and do that salute thing as long as the anthem played, and I’m sure his wife appreciated that gesture of lawful goodness as she got brutalized to death just a few steps away from the man who had vowed to love and protect her, amen. It’s a pity that I can’t remember the name of that movie – I caught it when I was in my early teens, and while the local censors kept everything from getting too graphic, I was quite traumatized by how stupid that hero is.
While Oliver Rivington is not as bad as that brain-damaged hindquarter in that movie I mentioned, he’s pretty exasperating, and hence, I grit my teeth way too often whenever he’s in the scene. Unfortunately, he’s one half of the boinking boys in Cat Sebastian’s The Soldier’s Scoundrel, so I can’t get away from him at all, alas.
Jack Turner, the other bloke, and his siblings were kids who grew up in the slums. They are all doing okay now, and Jack has his office above his sister’s dressmaker shop. He has a keen mistrust of posh blokes in town, but the ladies are alright – he runs a PI agency of sorts and he helps solve their problems such as blackmail, missing stuff, and other matters they don’t want others to find out. Oliver, who just left the army, knows of Jack when his own sister pays Jack for services well rendered, and he storms Jack’s office demanding to know what that service is. He soon realizes what Jack does, and eventually the two of them are working together to look into a matter of blackmail for Jack’s latest client. Oh, and of course, we can’t leave out some wholesome buggery fun between our two main blokes.
I like Jack, He’s witty, dapper, cynical, adorable, and amusing all in one charming bundle. Unfortunately, he’s paired with a guy who’s all lawful stupid like they handed out dumb by the bucketfuls at the army. Oliver is always, oh, Jack breaks into a house? Gasp, that is wrong! Jack sneaks around instead of going to the cops? Oh, the morality alarm is going off in Oliver’s head even as his woody is buzzing off in his pants. Isn’t there a better way to do things? Oh no, so much disorderly law-breaking conduct! Gasp! Insert horrified exclamation here!
I mean, look, that guy’s an ex-soldier. He’s supposed to have seen and done things, right? Oliver is not some gasping goldfish straight out of the convent, so why is the author making this poor guy resemble that dim, if cute, guy at the back of the bus trying so hard to keep up with Jack? Everything about Oliver doesn’t add up here. Worse, you know how it’s a running joke that gay romances written by female authors always has one bloke who is obviously the “woman”? Here’s Oliver. He’s visceral to the point of bewildering “Squint and you’ll see a dimbulb romance heroine!” tragicomedy, and his role here is to be flustered and made to feel all indignant/horny by Jack.
The story also suffers from some mild continuity issues. When Jack meets Oliver in the first scene, he’s all oh, Oliver’s not really his type. A short while later, he talks about how Oliver is always so beautiful. Which is which? There are also other moments of discontinuity such as this one, although for me, they aren’t big enough to completely jar me out of the story. Still, I notice them – maybe because Oliver and Jack together bore me silly due to Oliver being what he is – and maybe that’s bad enough.
On the bright side, Jack is, as I’ve said, a fun hero to remember, and the mystery is alright. The author also has a nice, buoyant narrative style that just screams posh boarding school British accent. I’m alright with this book, all things considered. It’s just a shame that I can’t enjoy this one more, thanks to that witless lawful stupid buffoon that Jack, for who knows what reason, has the hots for. Oh, for a hero more worthy of Jack’s finer virtues!