by Alexandra Benedict, historical (2010)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-168932-1
Please bear with me as I give you the synopsis of Alexandra Benedict's The Notorious Scoundrel. It's... complicated.
Amy Peel, nineteen, is born on the slums of London, but she manages to remain a virgin. It helps that she may currently work as "Zarsitti", exotic dancer for a club called the Pleasure Palace, and her employer, supposedly a disposed queen of Madagascar, wants her to have no contact with the patrons of the club after the dancing is over. Amy can't read, but she speaks like a toff. I don't know how that come about, but I do know she can use fancy words like nobody's business. Amy wants to be a lady, and she is hoping that she will soon have saved enough money to retire from dancing to live her own life.
Edmund Hawkins, our hero, isn't expecting much when he visits the Pleasure Palace out of curiosity, but he is soon going giddy for Zarsitti. He tails after her like a stalker, and Amy, who wants to keep her real identity a secret, happily leaves the club alone and openly enough for him to snag her. But then someone attacks her... him... or both of them, I don't know, and Edmund gets amnesia from the fight. Amy takes him in, where he then proceeds to make a complete muck of her life in his "I know best... even if I don't know you" way, until she has no choice but to follow him. And then they discover her past, and then it's Amy learning how to be a lady, and then it's plenty of family drama on everyone's part.
The Notorious Scoundrel is like the result of what happens when Ms Benedict is dared by a friend to write a story filled with all the clichés she can cram into the pages and then push it to her editor. If this is indeed the case, then it is a pretty good joke until I get to that part where I have to read this story myself.
There are way too many ridiculous and over-the-top twists and turns in this story. I can sympathize with Amy at first as Edmund, in his zeal to become the new prototype for Stephanie Laurens's latest Cynster cloning experiment, does a lot of things to ensure that she gets to live a "better life" when she keeps telling him that she makes more money as Zarsitti than she would working in a shop or selling herself on the street. I can feel her frustration when Edmund's antics thoroughly ensure that she has no chance of going back to Pleasure Palace. If you have a low tolerance for stories where the man steps in to mess up the heroine's life so completely despite the fact that he doesn't intend to stay permanently in her life, remember to take deep breaths and think happy thoughts when you are working your way through the first quarter of this book.
But my sympathies with Amy evaporate quickly when she becomes as ridiculous as Edmund is high-handed. For example, when she complains to Edmund of being forced to move out of her apartment, she learns that it is actually Edmund's older brother that gives her the instructions to leave. Edmund goes off to deal with his brother, and Amy then tries frantically to stop him because she believes that families are forever and therefore she will martyr herself so that all the Hawkins remain on kissing terms. She behaves like this all the time to the point that her obsession with keeping peace within the Hawkins clan seems more like a complex than anything else. Amy also pulls off some stupid stunts here, chiefly running away alone and unarmed when she has very good reasons to believe that she is being stalked by dangerous men.
There are some good things here, such as Edmund's interactions with his family. As the middle son in a big family, he has to do things twice as hard and loud to gain attention, and most of the time the attention isn't positive. How he tries to make peace with his bossy older brother and come to term with himself is actually quite well done here. Therefore, it is unfortunate that he is paired with a contradictory heroine who not only comes off like a contemporary dingbat transported to 19th century England but also a demented dingbat determined to be Oprah Winfrey. Add in the cliché pile-up and I get a story that tries to do too much only to end up doing too much in the wrong manner.
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