by Renee Bernard, historical (2007)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-2421-2
Madame's Deception is a standard "virgin inherits a brothel" story, only this one is set in England in 1870 instead of somewhere in the American Wild West like these stories usually are.
Jocelyn Tolliver has been running the Crimson Belle for nine years now, ever since she learned at her mother's deathbed that her mother was actually the madame of this exclusive brothel. I have no idea why her mother kept Jocelyn in the dark about Crimson Belle if this woman intended all along - or so the prologue suggests - to have Jocelyn take her place as Madame DeBourcier, but then again, I have no idea why so many things in this story happen the way they do. Alex Randall, our hero, encountered Jocelyn in the previous book by this author, A Lady's Pleasure, and in this one he wants to get to know Jocelyn better. She demands ten thousand pounds for her company for the entire Season, and to her surprise, Alex agrees. Meanwhile, someone is trying to be Jack the Ripper by strangling prostitutes, not that it matters since this filler subplot is so awkwardly inserted into the story only to provide some dramatic moments in the last few chapters.
On the bright side, Jocelyn is far from the naïve twit I would expect her to be, given my experiences with virgins who run lingerie stores, sex clubs, or brothels in other romance novels out there, but that is pretty much the only thing I like about this confusing mess of a story. I suppose Alex is a passable hero as well, but he's such a bland example of a commitment-shy rake that is finally snagged by the heroine that he's pretty forgettable as a result.
But the biggest problem with this story, apart from the awkward suspense subplot, is the author's portrayal of life in the Crimson Belle. Prostitution here is portrayed as some kind of idyllic fun trip where no abuse, no disease, nothing of that sort exists to taint the cheerful environment of the Crimson Belle. All the happy prostitutes have hearts of gold and we even have a proper young lady who decides to sell herself because she wants to indulge in her steamy hot passions. As much as I believe that prostitutes need love too, the author's portrayal of prostitution here is way too ridiculous and unbelievable for me - it's almost insulting my intelligence.
Also, I find it hard to believe that Jocelyn can get offended by the hero thinking that she's some kind of sleazy prostitute who can be bought. Hello, she knows what her job is, right? I'd think she'd sell off the brothel if she finds the concept of selling one's body so dishonorable, but then again, Jocelyn also insists that she's doing something good by teaching her prostitutes genteel manners and more. Why doesn't she then help these now-educated prostitutes to find a less degrading occupation? The fact that she continues to run a brothel while claiming that she's not for sale because she's a better person than that has me scratching my head.
I also find it ridiculous that she can claim to want to have an affair with Alex because she wants to experience red hot passion with him... only to then charge him an exorbitant sum of money for her company. Way to go in convincing him that you are not a prostitute, lady! Jocelyn also pulls that "I'm not good enough to marry you!" nonsense later on, but by then I am convinced that this confusing mess of contradictions is not at all smart so that behavior is pretty much to be expected from her.
Renee Bernard has strung together way too many clichés in Madame's Deception in a manner that is unfortunately too contradictory and confusing for me. It also doesn't help that I find the portrayal of prostitutes as Carebears with hearts of gold way too bizarre to be believable. Madame's Deception barely makes sense most of the time. Therefore, even if Ms Bernard has written this story in English, the story is still incoherent gibberish to me as a result.
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