by Deborah Martin, historical (1996)
Topaz, $5.50, ISBN 0-451-40676-1
All I can say after reading Wind Swept is that if someone decides to make a parody of a Jo Beverley crackpot heroine running around in a story like a headless chicken pretending to be Joan of Arc, this book is it. Except, I don't think this book is meant to be a parody. Often too hilarious for all the wrong reasons, Wind Swept is a book where too many of the problems in the story are caused by the heroine stupidly lying or keeping secrets when she can't do any of these two without stammering, stuttering, accidentally blurting out the truth, or being silent long enough to make everyone believe that she is guilty of much worse sins. When our hero Evan Newcome marvels at how unique he finds heroine Catrin Price, I find myself thinking, "Yes, her state of mental deficiency is definitely one of its kind!"
Evan comes down to Wales to look into the matter of a dead relative. The dead guy is linked to our heroine Catrin who is trying to locate a Druid chalice that will break a family curse. You see, the chalice is a family heirloom that was sold away by a silly fool a few generations ago. Without the chalice, any man who marries a Price woman will die, leaving the poor woman a virgin despite coming this close to a beautiful defloration on the wedding night. I wonder what the curse says about, say, the bride not being a virgin come the wedding night. Oh, what am I thinking? With a heroine like Catlin, I suppose it is a given that anything related to the Price clan should be considered to be of crackpot quality by default. Catlin is the last person to see poor dead Thomas Newcombe and Evan already has some clues that Thomas was making some transanction with a woman in this part of Wales (Catlin is trying to buy the chalice from him).
So when Evan meets Catlin, what does Catlin do? Stammer badly that he is looking for her grandmother (after she is caught bathing in her skimpies in the beautiful countryside, of course). If Evan is a less rational person, he'll suspect worse than the fact that she has something to hide from him. That's the start of a pattern in Catlin's behavior. She either lies or keeps secrets when there is no need to do so. Catlin goes to incredible lengths to become a martyr that she could have taught advanced classes in the Jo Beverley University of Martyrhood for Braindead Romance Heroines. Then there's her crackpot desire to marry for love when she's not even sure that she's worthy of love and her bizarre blind spot about Evan's feelings for her. She is every super-irritating dumb heroine trait rolled into a big ball of oversized breasts and underdeveloped brain - she needs to have things spelled out literally to her, she takes things too literally, she automatically makes the worst decisions possible in any given circumstances, and she grasps at even the most ridiculous excuses to become a martyr once her stupidity blows up in her face.
While normally Catlin will make my blood boil, she is so persistent in her pattern of diabolical idiocy that she soon comes off like Wild E Coyote falling off the cliff to land with a splat on the ground again and again in yet another failed attempt to capture the Road Runner. Wind Swept becomes too ridiculous and cartoonish to be taken seriously, much less be annoyed at, and I soon giggle as Catlin starts becoming more and more exaggerated in her nonsensical behavior. It also helps that Evan is a very attactive hero. He has his issues but he's the kind of hero that doesn't let his issues control him. A reliable and sensitive man, gallant Evan is exactly the father figure and babysitter that a woman like Catlin really needs.
There is a strong paranormal vein in this story with Druidic magic playing a key role in the plot, but then again, with a heroine like Catlin running the show into the ground, this baby needs all the magic it can get.
Wind Swept boasts a nice supportive network of secondary characters and a likeable hero, but these elements in the story are exactly what Catlin needs to save her from herself. This book is published ten years earlier than the latest Sabrina Jeffries book at the time of writing and it is nice to see how far the author has evolved in her craft. I believe that if I ever come across any Sabrina Jeffries book that I find too excruciating for words, I will think of Catlin, shudder, and conclude that for what it's worth, that book could have been worse. It could have a heroine who behaves just like Catlin.
Some people, after a hard time at the gym to lose weight, would put up old pictures of themselves at the fridge door to remind them to resist the impulse to overindulge in snacks. Wind Swept is the equivalent of those pictures: copies of the most incriminating pages should be pasted up on the wall of the workplace with relevant passages circled in red so that no author would ever even contemplate creating another heroine like Catlin again.
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