An Honorable Thief
by Anne Gracie, historical (2002)
Harlequin, $5.25, ISBN 0-373-29216-3


The main characters in Anne Gracie's latest Harlequin Historical offering aren't reenacting a horribly unbalanced rescue fantasy unlike this author's previous books. That's good, I like that. The heroine is still a stupid batty who happily ties herself up in unnecessary obligations made to a dead father who never cared about her in the first place, but she's not, at least, starving herself while stripping for love and home and Daddy. She's just bonkers for Daddy, but that's another story.

What ruins my reading experience is the same thing that I understand that many Regency romance readers love: An Honorable Thief soon turns into a tedious morality play. I am hoping that the story that will not end up like its Old Conservative Glory title, but I have to endure through Hugo Devenish and Catherine "Kit" Singleton's bare-breasted chest-beating reaffirmations of Value, Virtue, and Nobility before they have sex and babies. What makes the whole thing unintentionally hilarious is that these two characters are inherent hypocrites - their affirmations of Good Values are whacked as a result.

Kit made a promise to an ungrateful dying daddy to avenge their nonexistent family honor on all those men who caused her and her daddy to live as unscrupulous gamblers and con men abroad. So she's here in London, dressing up in baggy clothes (yes, baggy clothes for thieving and climbing - why doesn't Kit don a Superman cape and be done with it?) and saying "Aiee-ya!" The "Aiee-ya!" is the reason why everyone suspects that the thief is a Chinaman. Someone has been watching way too many Bruce Lee movies, I see. Then again, it could be worse - it could be "Ah so! Me wash your laundry very, very white!"

So Hugo Devenish is bedeviled. He is determined to prove that Kit Singleton, supposedly a diamond heiress in New South Wales (don't ask), is a fake, while trying to untangle the conundrum of the Chinaman thief.

Now, I like these two people. Kit and Hugo's bedeviling each other make me laugh, and in her own way, Kit is a pretty smart lady, family codependency notwithstanding. Hugo is also a nice, dark, and capable guy in his own right, and his interactions with Kit in the ballrooms are some of the finest to make me laugh out loud. I tell myself, I'm going to love this book.

In the end, in a way, I still like this book, but not enough to reread this book in the near future. The problem with virtuous heroines carrying the story is that virtue begets predictability, there's no way around it. When you're "virtuous", you act in a fixed pattern. Kit must blow her cover when Hugo shows her the bruise "somebody" has inflicted, because her immediate response is - you guessed it - a babbling apology and an offer to soothe that bruise with salve. I tell you, if you ever want a confession from these stupid, stupid women, take a knife and slice open your wrist, and watch her babble everything she knows as she sews you up. Put her in a morgue and watch her explode in a messy orgasm.

It's so predictable it's like watching a clockwork kowtow girl banging her head again and again against the Giant Walls of Conscience until the motor stops and I need to rewind her key. She'll never keep up with Hugo in the end, because she's a good girl.

And of course, the guilt! Oh, the guilt! She doesn't like this, she's only doing this for Daddy. Hugo and she both try to rationalize her actions, and it drives me bonkers, these repetitious "She's a good girl, she's really, really good!" broken records.

The secondary romance between her faithful companion and his is just as predictable. I understand that these devoted servants are necessary so that they will be forever enslaved in willing servitude to our fabulous, younger couple.

But Kit's a hypocrite. She keeps saying that she will be nice to her father's "friend" "no matter what Rose had done in the past" - done in this case as in being a mistress or worse to men. I guess her stealing jewelry of her dead dad's enemies is a good thing, ie unable to stop craving the affections of a man even after he's dead is Good and Moral. Likewise, Hugo can be an annoying prude: he accepts his nephew only after the latter has acted according to Hugo's rigid views that are formed as much from moral values as much as his own bigotry against the Ton. He's marrying a member of the Ton in the end, but that's Moral and Good, because she's not like Them. Or something, I don't know.

When the story is not being a morality play, Kit and Hugo make a really wonderful couple, sparkling banters and all. But really, if I want a Triumph of Virtue play, I'd attend the badly acted and horribly overwrought scripted nativity plays at my local church. There are some really nice moments in this well-written book, but in the end, An Honorable Thief comes up short.

Hey, I'm just me, but if you ask me, I'd prefer a story where the characters just act - actions speak louder than words - instead of the author beating me incessantly in the head again and again that look, her characters are so moral, so virtuous, so I must like them. Readers preferring a more well-defined black and white story to shades of gray will like this story better than me, no doubt.

Rating: 85


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