by Kasey Michaels, historical (2006)
HQN, $6.99, ISBN 0-373-77107-X
I cannot express just how much I love the title of this book: Beware Of Virtuous Women. Some of the heroines that infuriate me the most are the so-called virtuous women who always opt to martyr themselves in a melodramatic manner when such drama is just not necessary. Unfortunately, I wish I can report that this book is a parody of historical romances by, say, Jo Beverley. I wish, I really do, but alas, if wishes were horses, I've bred enough horses to make so much money that I'd buy over New York, Donald Trump style, and fire a few editors.
So yes, this is Eleanor Becket's story and she will be right at home in a Jo Beverley romance novel. Beware Of Virtuous Women is only the third book in the author's Romney Marsh series but the storyarc that begins in the first book continues in this book. While there is a foreword by Ms Michaels to explain what happened so far in the series, readers new to the series really should tackle at least the first book before they read this one. Eleanor and the hero Jack Eastwood, after all, encounter each other for the first time in the first book.
The plot of this book is related to the previous books because the Red Men, an interloper group of smugglers, are still terrorizing the local smugglers in Romney Marsh and in this book it's Jack Edward's turn to investigate and therefore advance the storyarc a little bit more. He intends to head over to London to investigate potential noblemen that have links to the Red Men. He needs a "wife" to infiltrate social circles that men are barred from accessing, and Eleanor decides that she will be perfect for the role. She has her own reasons to volunteer: one of Jack's suspects may be linked to her past and she wants to determine once for all whether this is true.
Eleanor is quiet and tends to sit quietly in a corner, overlooked by many people who are in the same room as her, as she listens to what people are talking around her. She's a true wallpaper in that sense. She also limps in one leg although she insists that she is smart enough not to be bothered too much by it. Jack is depicted as a very large man compared to dainty Eleanor and he always feel clumsy in her presence. Lucky him, she's going to be near him 24/7 in the upcoming two weeks.
However, just as Eleanor has a secret that she keeps from him, Jack too has a secret that he keeps from her. He is an agent of the Crown who was sent to investigate the smuggling activities in Romney Marsh. Goodness me, look at how many agents that are being sent to Romney Marsh, what with Chance, then Ethan, and now Jack! Ms Michaels really needs to come up with something else in the next book or Romney Marsh is going to be overrun by spies that manage not to know they are actually colleagues. Anyway, Jack first suspected Ainsley Becket to be the head of the Red Gang but you know Ainsley. He has It. Jack is soon his willing disciple and admirer. So now he's going to take down the Red Gang, not just for England, but for Ainsley, for love, for hope, for TWO! FOUR! SIX! OH! WAAAAAAHHH-ONE!
I like Eleanor at first because she seems smart and level-headed, saying that she shouldn't let her heart interfere with her brain when she's trying to be Charlie's Angel. Jack is a pretty decent hero though. But as the story continues, I notice that these two characters seem to put their investigation to the backburner as they spend more time psychoanalyzing themselves and each other. That is fine but I then notice a rather annoying way of Ms Michaels to keep a certain conflict going. A very common example will be Eleanor's refusal to either admit an issue and deal with it or, when Jack is pretty much begging her to let him in on her secrets, she will still insist on keeping mum. It's not like she will lie and deflect his attention like she claims she is good at doing, in these scenes she will just tell him to change the subject. That doesn't just make her look weak and even guilty, it also makes me want to groan in dismay because Eleanor is just prolonging everyone's pain unnecessarily.
That's why I compare Eleanor to a typical Jo Beverley heroine. These heroines are so vocal in proclaiming what they can and will do, but when they have to walk the walk, they crumble and tearfully act like a wronged martyr. But that's what these heroines excel in doing, right? They insist that they are strong and they will of course survive even as they slowly waste away, beautiful in their torment, until the hero comes in just in time to save them and commend them for being so courageous in the face of suffering and despair. It's all in the drama. You are good and you are loved because you have the knack to suffer so melodramatically while the violins play in the background. "Don't ask me about my secrets! Please! You're hurting me by asking me some more! PLEASE STOP! And please don't start again even if I will act giddy and remind you that I am ineptly keeping a secret to myself - unnecessarily - within the next few pages!" Oh, those beautiful yet pitiful women. Let me get my stun gun.
Because Beware Of Virtuous Women morphs into a tedious story involving unnecessary hoarding of secrets and an unwillingness to come clean, I have lost much of my initial goodwill at the start of this book and I am just glad to see the story end. This is the third of three books where I end up thinking that these Becket spawns are such self-absorbed crybabies seizing at any chance to showboat when it comes to their pain and suffering, come to think of it. I'm inclined to blame Ainsley Becket. That man is so preoccupied in showing everyone what a genius he is, I can only imagine the damage he had caused on those kids' self esteem over the years.
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