Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6286-6
Historical Romance, 2003
Connie Lane used to write historicals under the name Constance Laux, so I’m not too sure if claims of The Viscount’s Bargain Basement Sale, oops, The Viscount’s Bawdy Bargain being the author’s first Regency historical is entirely true. No matter – this bargain sale is unbelievably painfully silly. Ms Lane doesn’t ask one to suspend’s one credulity, she builds a spacecraft out of pink fluffy clouds and begs readers to fly with her to la-la land. It is when the silliness bleeds over into agonizingly stupid behavior on the heroine’s part, however, that is when the involuntary enema starts to happen. Why does it always have to be the heroines to drive me crazy anyway? Oh, make it stop, somebody!
It all starts when Nicholas Pryce, Viscount Somerton, and his fraternity jockstrap buddies the Dashers decide to pay back against the rival fraternity the Blades by suggesting a wager: the fraternity of braindeads that bring a truly astounding and bewildering object at an appointed meeting spot will win lots of money. The Blades bring an elephant. The Dashers kidnap a virgin, apparently because there is nothing more fascinating and alien to these fraternity of braindeads than a virgin.
Tell me if this isn’t those guys’ cry for psychiatric help.
Somerton kidnaps Wilhelmina “Willie” Culpepper, the daughter of the preacher of the Church of Divine and Imperishable Justice. The Dashers win the wager, and then Willie deliberately gets herself compromised just to show her father a thing or two. Not that Somerton actually plays with his Willie or anything, he’s too drunk to get Willie up anyway. Not that she tries anything. Somerton’s Willie just stands there and glares at him. Both are shocked when Willie’s father demands monetary compensation in return for Somerton’s pulling his Willie down from the carriage in the morning. He refuses to pay the piper and tells the preacher to get lost, and the preacher declares that his Willie is now dead to him.
So poor Willie, now disgraced and disowned, is stuck with Somerton. Somerton decides to offer her a marriage proposal. She balks at the suggestion – what about love? So she offers to be his housekeeper instead. That’s right – she’d rather single-handedly clean his house, make his meals, and more. She gets to do this because all his staff have quitted in protest at Somerton’s ruining his Willie, an innocent. I don’t know. Any woman who offers to clean those old big English houses – alone – must be three-quarters insane, especially when she does this because she deems herself indebted to him for his defending Willie from her father.
Then she realizes that Somerton is bankrupt. She decides to first hire prostitutes and thieves (out of her heart’s kindness, with the predictable “funny” consequences to ensue) to clean his house and a poisoner to be the cook while she appoints herself his personal assistant. She will now help him organize an Operation Rich Wife campaign! Somerton, for a man who offered to marry his Willie just a little earlier, suddenly pulls an “I only want to marry for love” nonsense out of his hat. Willie and Somerton, ruined by gossip, suddenly get to invite everybody to their house parties. Willie, the daughter of a preacher, suddenly becomes omnipresent about the comings and goings of the Ton. She suddenly knows what and who is in and what or who isn’t. I wonder if she knows where Ms Lane hid all the logic.
Predictably, Somerton’s true love is with his Willie. And this is where the whole harmless nonsense turns gangrenous. I can tolerate Willie and Somerton’s personality, motives, and behavior changing from chapter to chapter as long as we’re dealing with some harmless anecdotal slapstick scenes, but Willie suddenly develops a case of the morons. She wants him. He wants her. She can’t have him. Why? I don’t know. She just can’t have him. She wants to marry for love, but apparently she wants to marry only after she has picked up the baseball bat of stupid martyrdom and beat her own head into a bloody pulp first. She just keeps succumbing to Somerton only to declare that “This must not happen again!” or some other variation of the moronic, it’s painful to read. She keeps running away or turning him away only to weep in the dark alone that she is so unloved, what kind of idiot is this? Am I suppose to pity this fool? Call me Mrs T, eat my fist, you stupid Willie wench!
Everything that idiot woman does in the late half of the book is like a laceration across my wrist. It’s horrible and it’s like slowly bleeding to death as I read in stupefied dismay at her undergoing yet again another “I can’t love him!” session. Why? The author doesn’t even explain a little of Willie’s motivations. I don’t know what to make of Willie. Sometimes she’s spunky, most of the time she seems born with some congenital need to inflate her low self-esteem by acting like a martyr.
Stupidity runs rampant and amok here, and for a short time, I’m willing to play along. But soon, the stupidity becomes too toxic for me. In the end, I really believe that the Dashers won the bet with the Blades. Somerton’s Willie is indeed the more bewildering, mystifying find – she is a thick, throbbing tumescence of engorged idiocy that one could only hope comes around only once in a few lifetimes or so. Somerton is an enjoyable hero if one can separate him from the rampant stupidity going on around him – he’s a little irresponsible, but he always has a sense of humor and there’s no ill-will or malice in him. He’s just a spoiled brat who can lay the charm real thick. I like him. He’s the only nice thing about this story. Too bad he’s led around by his Willie in this Bargain Sale where apparently everything’s on sale except for a clue.