Zebra, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0480-6
Historical Romance, 2009
Too Hot for a Spy is not a badly written book. It’s not excellent, but it’s not unreadable either. Contrary to what you may think, I do have a heart now and then, so I don’t want to give debut authors like Pearl Wolf a single oogie. Unfortunately, the story here is full of completely implausible moments that I can’t really overlook the many problems in this story even if I want to.
In this one, we have Lady Olivia Fairchild. She’s 24, but she behaves more like a spoiled 16-year old used to getting her way. While working as a clerk at the Home Office (really), our daughter of a Duke realizes that she has stumbled upon a most exciting top secret development: the Home Office has set up a school to train spies, called the Wilson Academy. Olivia has always wanted to be a spy, so she decides to cajole and beg her way into the school.
Even I, a novice where English history is concerned, have a hard time accepting this premise, much less the success of Olivia in entering that school and getting her father’s approval to do so in the process. Aren’t spies supposed to, I don’t know, lie, steal, and sleep with various people for information? And the sixth Duke of Heatham allows his daughter to do this kind of thing?
It gets better. Olivia wonders aloud what she should wear as a spy early in the story, which tells me right away that Miss Thing here is completely out of her depths. When she starts wondering whether she can handle the daily schedule of lessons she is given, that’s when I know that she is going to make me hit the bottle before the book reaches its midway point. Olivia also just has to have sex with Sebastian Brooks, our hero, as if she’s some college girl on a determined mission to leave no man standing straight in Cancun during her Spring Break vacation. It is bad enough that Sebastian is a fellow with amazing time-management skills because he could design the school, oversee its administration, teach, and hang around in the ballrooms all in the same Season, he also lures Olivia out of the ballroom in their first encounter and begins “teasing the nub” of her nipple with his “two fingers”. On page 9!
And then there is this scene that takes place late in the story, which makes me take a deep breath before wishing that I have a bottle of whiskey by my side. This is a scene where the teachers talk among themselves about Olivia’s performance in the school. They describe her as unable to follow orders, impulsive, reckless… and then call her in the same scene “an outstanding trainee”. WHAT? Is Ms Wolf kidding? And then we have one instructor “pleading” that they let Olivia graduate so that she can be put into the code-breaking department, “out of harm’s way”. And she is AN OUTSTANDING TRAINEE?
In another story with another plot, I may actually be somewhat fond of Olivia, because while she may be spoiled and reckless, I do admire her willingness to go after what she wants and her refreshing frankness in telling off the hero when he’s not treating her nicely. Unfortunately, this book has its utterly stupefying and ridiculous spy school plot, its very contemporary dialogues, and a complete disregard for halfway credible historical accuracy to doom itself from the first page. In fact, it is because I feel a degree of fondness for the heroine that I compromise my own standards here and give this book three points more than it deserves. When it comes to the dishing out scores, I reserve the bottom of the barrel for books which are completely wrong, wrong, wrong, and this book is, alas, so, so, so wrong.