The Fortune Hunter
by Diane Farr, historical (2002)
Signet, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-20565-0


I get first dips on George Carstairs, Baron Rival. Anyone who disagrees can go kiss a moving steamroller - he's mine, mine. So there!

Yes, The Fortune Hunter has stolen my common sense the moment he waltzes in, merry and daring as you please, armed with an arsenal of verbal seduction and flirtation that actually makes me blush - blush, of all things! - like a silly schoolgirl all over again. The heroine Olivia Fairfax tries and does keep up, but while this book is fun, it is curiously devoid of sexual tension. Flirtatious banters, yes, plenty, but heat? Not much.

So, I'm sad to say that I have to deduct a few points for George not really showing how good he can use that tongue.

George is desperate. His estates are in shambles and he needs money ASAP. But nobody, not even a merchant's daughter, wants to marry him, because he is an infamous rake. Uhm, are you sure, George? Romance heroines are suckers for rakes. They'll cut off their own tongues and pimp their grandmothers for one. Needless to say, George soon realizes that romance heroines are all hiding in the countryside pretending to be feminist bluestockings, so off he goes looking for a Miz Olivia Fairfax, purportedly a wealthy heiress.

Actually, Olivia has money, but she is spending almost everything on this school project she runs for orphans. You're expecting a jet-setting socialite?

When George first meets Olivia, she recognizes him at once by his name, so she pretends to be not Olivia. George is puzzled, but charmed by this woman. Who is she? Must be a charming governess from the school Olivia runs, surely, since she is so well-mannered and eloquent. How sad, because now she's off-limits (after all, we all know that only lower-class sluts are fair games for rakes, noble born bluestockings are holy virgins). Still, they share a kiss... ooh, fireworks explode and the world tilts a further eighty degrees on its axis.

George stupidly confesses to "Ivy" of his plans to marry Ms Olivia for money. "Ivy" tells him that Olivia is as ugly as a bullmastiff's backside, and he goes, "No! Now I must go check out the other moneybags I have on my list!" (Okay, he says it more eloquently and dashingly.) "Ivy" has to ask him what kind of moneybags is he talking about, and he blabs everything soon enough.

Needless to say, Olivia is not amused.

When they meet again on the will reading session of the old coot they both know, George really wants to die. The late Mr Beebe whose money is holding both Ivy and George hostage isn't above pimping both losers in the name of love, so the will comes with a condition: Ivy will handle the money bequeathed to George, provided George proves his worth helping at her school.

You know, won't it be easier to just ask those two to shag in front of a circle of witnesses? Call that true love, how about that?

And George, dear George, lays the charm thick. What shall he do? He's good at fisticuffs - shall he teach the girls boxing? Fencing? How about patrolling the grounds at night? That man is incorrigible, funny, witty, and oh-so-cute all at once. He's a fake rake, of course, because I don't think any rake will be so honorable (he really respects Ivy that much) even as he makes her gasp at his outrageous suggestions to tutor her in natural history. Ms Farr has created the perfect charming scoundrel in George, oh naughty, naughty boy. Behave or I'll have to throw you over my knees and paddle you, George. Ahem.

Ivy does keep up, and she even flirts back. She even proposes a bargain with George. He can kiss her, maybe, and they'll see: if she says yes, he can get to marry her. If not, bye bye George, and watch out for that crowd of women waiting to pounce just around the corner.

The story falters a lot when the author starts making the main characters - particularly Ivy - pussyfooting with their emotions and going around in circles. There are also subplots such as Ivy's unpleasant half-brother that don't really go anywhere. Of course, I could use the sexual tension being raised a few notches or so too, but since Ms Farr just graduated from writing traditional Regencies to this, her first full-length historical, I guess I should cut her some slack there.

But seriously, if a man declares how no man is worthy of a woman like me but he'll fight for me anyway, unworthy bastard that he is, because he loves me that much, just like George thinks of Ivy that way, I'll melt. My toes will curl and I will make sure his virtue is pounded so deep into the ground it'll form some obscene-shaped fossil a million years later.

The Fortune Hunter is one of those stories that are fun, light-hearted romps, but it rises above mediocrity thanks to the bubbly, irresistible charisma of a hero who always have a witty rejoinder to every conceivable situation in his life. There's nothing more appealing than a hero with a sense of humor, really.

I get first dips to George. You read it here first, you hear me?

Rating: 87


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