by Christina Dodd, historical (2005)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-056112-2
There are several subplots taking place simultaneously in My Fair Temptress and Christina Dodd ends up taking the worst approach she could have used on these subplots: she dumbs down her characters so that the plots become ridiculously cartoonish. Much of the story hinges on the heroine being clueless about the hero's Scarlet Pimpernel stunt, and Ms Dodd's approach causes the heroine to come off like a total scatterbrained nitwit. My Fair Temptress is not a book to read when one is not in the mood for utmost silliness.
Jude Durant is on a mission. In front of everyone, our secret agent hero plays the ineffectual dandy when he is actually trying to discover the people behind the death of his brother. Meanwhile, his father despairs of seeing Jude married so he hires someone from the Distinguished Academy of Governesses (which has also functioned as a front when the headmistress wants to dabble in a bit of spywork herself - it's a Victorian-era mill, something like Contrivances R Us) to teach Jude to flirt and get a wife. Caroline Ritter, our heroine, is naturally in Desperate Straits because she has no money and she is unemployable, although her employers still love her to pieces at the end of the day. Don't worry, genteel readers, Caroline isn't such an immoral selfish creature as to want money to buy food to eat - she just wants to grab her sister and move to France. Where I suppose she and her sister will then repeat the cycle of victimization that makes them so beautiful when they end up in France with no money and no employable skills.
Caroline is hired to tutor Jude while Jude decides to use her as amusement as well as a lure to draw out the suspects. In this case, the villains are so obvious in their behavior and demeanor that I am surprised they manage to enter the British borders when they may as well paint "Spies here! Catch us if you can!" on their foreheads. It doesn't reflect well on the Crown or on Jude, supposedly a good agent, that they all have to lumber and dodder in order to nab these obvious villains. In one really painful scene to read, Ms Dodd has two bad guys asking Jude whether he can speak in their native tongue. He of course says no, and these bad guys then proceed to converse among themselves, mocking Jude (who naturally understands very word) and even spilling important details about their plans right in front of Jude. In a public place where there is a chance that an eavesdropper may actually understand what they are saying.
See what I mean about very stupid characters doing stupid things in this story? There are more scenes that feel as dumb as the scene I've mentioned above, causing My Fair Temptress to come off as a book deliberately written to be as obvious as possible, as if the author is afraid that I will be lost in the plot unless she spills everything out in insultingly obvious detail. The story is like a cartoon as a result, where Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs Bunny will pause to look at the audience and tell them all about his plans before laughing in his unique way and bumbling towards his inevitable defeat and humiliation.
The story doesn't just suffer from shoddy construction, the characters are forced into behaving in ways that make them come off as pretty stupid. Ms Dodd decides that Caroline needs to be clueless for as long as possible about Jude's real persona but because she cobbles together the story like it's the new Looney Tunes cartoon, Caroline's inability to see past Jude's very obvious and barely functional disguise makes her come off as really dim. Ms Dodd insists that the characters are smart but she makes them do very simple and uncomplicated things, as if she fears that an audience of six-year old girls may happen to read this book and get put off by anything remotely complicated even a little in this story.
The dumbed-down tone of the book works against it very badly because the main characters come off as pretty dim not to catch on quickly to the very obvious things happening around them. And if Caroline is pretty stupid, Jude is a typical Christina Dodd alpha male. As a result, My Fair Temptress features a set of main characters that one can find in any book of this author in the past, with the added bonus of this particular story being cobbled together from poorly thought-out scenes. Unfairly or not, this book reeks of lazy aversion to even a little difficulty in the plot and shoddy writing. If you ask me why you should read this book, the best answer I can say is, "Well, only if you really have nothing else to do with your time."
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