Tempting Torment
by Jo Goodman, historical (2001, 1989 reissue)
Zebra, $6.50, ISBN 0-8217-6842-5


Oh, I don't know where to start, really. I don't understand the foggiest what the hero and heroine (especially the heroine!) are thinking or doing when they do stupid things like that, and since this story is all about the stupid things they do, I just want the ordeal of reading this terrible, terrible book to be over.

Jessa Winter, a nanny, is a walking catalog of Little Match Girl troubles. She has been assaulted by an ex-employer, and now she is on the run with ex-employer's young ward after his wife tried to kill the baby. Jessa will now exhibit one single personality trait - she will do stupid things in the name of baby Gabriel. Let me explain.

She cannot bear to have the baby out of her sight. Yes she uses this baby as a key to her highwayman plot that she carries out with some friends. I don't believe this woman - you just don't put a baby you profess to care to the brink of hysteria about in a situation where there are bullets flying about.

One of the passengers caught in the highwayman-project gone awry thing is Noah McClellan, an American who is in England for some... er, la-di-da thing, I guess, before he goes home to become some great politician. Noah, alas, is wounded. As Jessa takes care of him, she holds back glistening tears, full of guilt as she has done this handsome man harm. What a horrible, horrible woman she is!

Then, certain that Noah is dying, Jessa decides to marry him and then when he's dead, she'll present herself and baby Gabby to America as his widow and kid. Wow. I'm stunned by this brilliant plan, but... er, why must they really marry anyway? Can't they just bluff?

Anyway, Noah doesn't die, of course, and that's where the trouble starts.

Noah, Noah, Noah. How should I even start? That man is all plot cipher. When the author wants him to be nice, he's all Mr Sensitive and Gallant. When the author wants a conflict, Noah immediately transforms into a monster, raking Jessa's entrails all over hot coals. What happened to character? Noah doesn't even have one. He has TOOL stamped all over his cardboard abs.

As for Jessa, oh dear. I guess the author's idea of emotional development is to have Jessa do the waterworks at least twice per chapter. This woman is nuts. I mean Jessa, not Ms Goodman, by the way. Jessa does a lot of stupid things that endangers both her and her baby, not to mention her man, all the while screeching that she loves everybody the most. She has no character depths - unless you factor in her psychopathic maternal impulses - and worse, she too is a plot cipher, constantly in trouble so that gallant Noah will always run to her rescue.

This is a tiring read because Jessa gets into trouble all the time. And when she does, she turns on the waterworks. When she isn't in trouble, she is pouting her lips and arguing over who should sleep on the bed. Most inexplicable is her insistence on creating a fake beau to throw Noah off. On one hand, she cannot help kissing Noah. Then, when she does, she turns on the waterworks and invoke this fake beau to really make Noah mad. What does Jessa want, really? I don't know. I don't care. But I think men have a really ugly word for women like Jessa who kiss and more only to go all hysterical afterwards.

Tempting Torment is excruciating torment, like a soap opera of stupidity with no rhyme or reason in sight anywhere. This one is best saved for days when one want to feel depressed beyond hope.

Oh, there's a bonus here, a short story called Tidewater Promise. It's about Courtney McClellan, who breaks off so many engagements only to marry her best friend Cameron. Despite the author calling Court all the synonyms one can think of for "intelligent", Court shows signs of being completely absent of any bone in her body. But this short story is too short to insult, irritate, or even make an impact on me. A perfect closure to an episode of pain and torture that is a book that should have never been reissued unless a major rewrite is on the agenda.

Rating: 21


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