The Highwayman
by Anne Kelleher, historical (2001)
Jove (Irish Eyes), $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13114-8


Interesting cover. Dude wearing a black silk shirt and a backdrop of some modern-looking manor. Imagine my surprise when I realized that The Highwayman is a historical. It's a take on the Scarlet Pimpernel/Robin Hood fable, and it will have been a good read if the hero Neville, also known as Gentleman Niall to everybody, will just grow up and get a clue.

Gentleman Niall is a highwayman who is robbing the rich for the poor even as he masquerades as a scarred dandy by day (the scars are real, by the way). He hates the aristocracy for what they did to him and his mother Moira even as he has the cheek to tell her mother that they will not hang him because he's "aristocracy". I first thought he was just being deliciously ironic. As his behavior and twelve-year old mentality soon shows, he is probably serious. Neville is a much more stupid and witless man that he believes himself to be.

His enemy at the moment is the Sir Oliver. Nevvy decides to lull the gambling-mad man into giving away the man's family home in a game of cards. Nevvy wins, of course, but learns too late that he has won also the daughter, one Lady Elizabeth.

Lizzie knows her father is irresponsible, lazy, and all, but she is also holding out for him. Her strict grandmother who runs the family with an iron hand has exiled Oliver to Ireland even as she keeps Lizzie behind in England. Lizzie now spends her time learning about herbs and healing, in preparation to make her grand coming-out as a cliché. When she learns of new instant upcoming nuptials, she is shocked. Even more when her grandmother decides that it may not be such a bad idea after all. Neville is an Earl, so he's a catch.

Lizzie soon finds herself traveling to Ireland. What awaits her now? Well, a husband who acts churlish and boorish, blaming the wife for every sin in the world, that's wait. Nevvy's obligatory older best buddy and protector is the one who comforts Lizzie, acts as her confidante, and generally be the sexy older man every woman with common sense will grab hold to. Lizzie, however, is star-struck by Gentleman Niall ever since he - for some reason I still don't exactly grasp completely - kidnaps her on her arrival in Ireland and then lets her go.

In a refreshing change from the usual dumb heroine antics, Lizzie recognized Nevvy in his dandy disguise almost immediately. I sigh in relief and expect some decent marriage dynamics. But no, Nevvy only takes this opportunity to reiterate his All Women Are Untrustworthy Bitches mantra. Why untrustworthy? The story doesn't exactly explain how Nevvy comes to this conclusion. When we have his mother heckling him to treat his wife better every other chapter, and Nevvy clamming up and going "Moooom!" in response, it gets worse. Nevvy will look right at home as one of the brats in Malcolm In The Middle.

Lizzie is a rather well drawn heroine, and the author brings Lizzie's feeling lost in an alien country really well. Nevvy's immaturity and stubborn refusal to even give his wife the benefit of the doubt for so long and some glaring plot holes in this story however cause The Highwayman to stumble. This is not a bad book, but I suspect it won't be stealing hearts everywhere either.

Rating: 74


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