The Naked Earl
by Sally MacKenzie, historical (2007)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-8217-8075-6


Sally MacKenzie's The Naked Earl has a claim for fame of sorts. It is a romance novel that features a hero who cannot perform in bed.

Actually, Robert Hamilton's penis is in working order, but our poor Earl of Westbrooke is psychologically incapable of closing the deal with a woman. You see, when he was seventeen, his friends took him to a brothel where they treated him with a prostitute. However, just when he had taken off his clothes, these friends burst into the room and along with the prostitute all laughed and pointed at his, you know. Poor Robert can't get it up whenever he's in bed with a woman ever since because he can't forget that evening out with his buddies. Ms MacKenzie doesn't have the courage to make Robert under-endowed though, which makes me wonder why these people are laughing at his penis in the first place. Maybe it's green in color?

At any rate, Robert's best friend has been his hands for all these long and lonely years of admiring hot women from afar but never getting to close to deal with them, until a failed plot by a scheming hussy to get him in bed with her and force him to marry her sends him running into the room of spinster Lady Elizabeth Runyon. Lizzie is at that moment drunk because she's been in love with Robbie ever since she was a fetus or something and now she's happily examining her naked body before the mirror. Robbie barges in and... whoa.

Despite the two characters' best intentions, they will soon find themselves encountering each other often. The scheming hussy and a jilted suitor of Lizzie will soon team up to make their lives more interesting. Oh, isn't this exciting?

Despite the author's efforts to bring on the madcap antics and chaotic slapstick comedy into this story, there is no hiding the unfortunate fact that The Naked Earl is a very tired and predictable tale, an unevenly written one at that. The only thing consistent about Lizzie's character is that she is bloody irritating from beginning to end. She's a typical "I love him, I will do anything for him, but I won't marry him or believe that he loves me because I know he's too good for me and now I hate myself for getting him to marry me - ai-yai-yai!" heroine, which is bad enough, but her characterization is all over the place depending on how Ms MacKenzie wants to humiliate Lizzie to bring on the funny. Lizzie can also be shockingly naive about sex, like many of this author's heroines, yet at the same time she exhibits no genuine curiosity about the matter and instead depends on Robbie to tell her whether she's doing anything right. She is never as bad as the heroine in the author's previous book The Naked Marquis who actually needs the hero to tell her whether she's pregnant, but that's just small consolation.

Robbie is slightly more tolerable than Lizzie since he, being a man, gets to be smarter than Lizzie in this story. But when the plot requires that he be ridiculously dense about seeing the obvious, he'll be just that and make me see red.

I think I can appreciate Ms MacKenzie's sense of humor if she manages to get the plot thing right. As of now, she's trying to be funny but her stories and her characters are very banal examples of pedestrian stereotypes and no amount of canned laughter can hide that fact.

Rating: 58


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