Scoundrel For Hire
by Adrienne deWolfe, historical (1999)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80527-8


Call me weird, but sometimes I wish romance heroes and heroines aren't always that virtuous. Sometimes a plot requires the lead characters to be less than saintly to work. In Scoundrel For Hire, the author goes the extra mile to make her characters stay within the boundaries of Ye Noble People acceptability, but unfortunately, her efforts stick out like a sore thumb, causing the story to derail half-way down the road.

Raphael Jones is a stage actor and con out to bamboozle the rich mining barons and their hangers-on when his cover is blown by Silver Nichols, daughter of one of the wealthiest local mining baron. She strikes him a bargain - in return for her silence, she will finance his deception as an English aristocrat, and he will seduce her father's fiancee.

Okay, because she's the heroine, she's doing this because she's convinced that woman Celestia Cooper is a fake psychic out to bamboozle her superstitious father's fortunes. And Rafe has a Bad Past that sort of justifies his occupation as a conman. But really, I must say I find these attempts at justifying our lead characters' behavior don't gel. Instead of adding shine to their halos, somehow the goody-woodiness castrates him and turns her into a whining wimp.

Rafe, for instance, keeps moaning that he will go to Hell when he dies, and hence he has no conscience, yadda yadda yadda. When he moans that he is going to roast for the godawful dozenth time, I wish someone will take out a Colt .45 and blow him out of his misery. Why all the silly self-pity? Okay, the book says it's because he's brainwashed into believing thus by his lunatic, sanctimonious fool of a stepfather and a total nitwit of a brother. I know social conditioning can be a hard thing to overcome, but since there's nowhere in this book that tells me exactly what Rafe did in his past that was so heinous to merit lifelong self-flagellation, I am hard-pressed not to pull the trigger of the Colt .45 myself.

Worse off is Silver, the poor woman who is a victim of the unspoken rule that heroines can't have a speck of guile in their backbone (or better still, get rid of the backbone!). The self-justification she goes through and the agonizing bouts of guilt she experiences - all to protect Daddy dearest, of course - just become irritating after a while. I can't help but to agree with Rafe at his initial assumption that this woman just wants to make sure no one inherit Daddy's monies but her. Can't help wishing that is her intention, because by making her into a worrysot, the author incapacitates poor Silver into the role of a hand-wringing guilt-ridden woman who can't stand up to anyone from her father to Rafe to the bad guy when the situation warrants it. Silver starts out a wonderfully cunning heroine that somehow morphs into a stock damsel-in-distress midway in the story.

I can't help wishing this book has taken a few risks. If Rafe is a rogue through and through minus the token emotional baggage, if Silver is allowed to be cunning and devious, this story will have flown high. What I get instead is a predictable pair of lead players stuck in a somewhat unfocused story with too many elements that don't flow well. But there's a cute otter pup that caught my heart, so Scoundrel For Hire not exactly a dead loss either.

Rating: 69


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