My Favorite Thief
by Karyn Monk, historical (2004)
Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58441-3
The reader's enjoyment of My Favorite Thief depends on how she is willing to go along with a heroine that is as dumb as a box of nails and questionable antics from both the hero and the heroine. It's the same old story and the same old broken record, I know, but the heroine in this book - sheesh. Talk about idiotic.
Charlotte Kent first appeared as a kiddie stray in the author's The Prisoner. Now, Charlotte is older. She had a hard life on the streets and it is her crippled leg that spares her from being ravished by the rough men on the streets (or so the author says). Today, she starts a home for streetwalkers and other people on the street looking for sanctuary. She is at Lady Chadwick's party one night when she encounters Harrison Payne in the middle of a burglary attempt. I don't know why - honor among thieves, maybe, as she was an ex-pickpocket? - but Charlotte immediately aids him in getting away, even when she believes that he is the infamous thief known as Dark Shadow. As Harrison is holding his willing hostage while he tries to escape, someone else in the dark opens fire and Lord Chadwick is fatally wounded as a result. Harrison is also wounded. Charlotte, being a nicely preprogrammed romance heroine that she is, doesn't hesitate to take him back to her home where she and her ragtag crew of social misfits tend to the wounded man. These misfits, by the way, come straight out of a cartoon that will result when Walt Disney sets its eyes on Oliver Twist. When morning comes, Dark Shadow is branded a murderer by the law and the press.
It is soon evident that Harrison is playing a cat-and-mouse game with his enemy - this is no straightforward thieving case. But he has more worries to confront. Charlotte's father appears to blackmail her - if she doesn't pay him five thousand pounds, he will hurt her family. Charlotte, naturally, doesn't stop to even think. She flies straight into panic mode - Must! Protect! Family! Must! Pay! Daddy! Must! Be! Guilt-ridden! - and blackmails Harrison for her silence. I should have known earlier from Charlotte screwing up an interrogation session with the police chief with her inept attempts at lying that a brick has more wit and cunning than her. Her guardian must be a powerful man if his influence can get her invited to parties thrown by people that shun her for her charity work, but Charlotte never even think of asking help. No, she doesn't want her family to be hurt! Her guardian is a powerful man, but she doesn't want him to get into trouble! So she will suffer for the sake of everybody, only, of course, she has to go about suffering in a moronic way. She's a nitwit martyr and hence the worst of the martyrs out there. Even when Harrison asks her what her problem is, she can't tell. She doesn't want to hurt anybody! And oh, she feels so guilty when she blackmails Harrison but oh! She has to do it! She has no choice! Really no choice! In misery and in guilt - ah, Charlotte is right on schedule and it's business as usual in the land of imbeciles.
If things need to get any worse, once Harrison learns of her misery, he actually applauds her "courage" and abets her actions. The thing is, as the story later proves, if only she has told, her family of ragtag misfits would have rallied around her and nobody has to do anything stupid like she has done. On his part, Harrison could have experienced intriguing moral conflicts later in the story that would make him an interesting character. However, the author fails to do even that. The next few sentences contain spoilers, so highlight the words between the spoiler tags if you wish to be spoiled. [spoiler starts] Actually, Harrison was the Dark Shadow. He took up the activity to spite his father. Only, when this story takes place, Harrison has retired and the Dark Shadow is an impostor. Harrison is determined to catch this impostor himself without involving the law. Hence, both men end up chasing each other all over town. When this and the identity of the impostor are revealed, Harrison experiences the slight burn of conscience when he realizes that what he perceived as an amusing sport had far greater consequences than he initially assumed. The impostor's father was the police chief that spent his life trying to apprehend Harrison and failed. This father was so consumed by his failure that he got careless and ended up getting killed on the job. The impostor is the son of this man and he wants revenge on Harrison. But instead of having Harrison experience any genuine epiphany, the author instead has the villain blab his plans to Harrison (the usual) and then get arrested while Harrison doesn't have to pay one whit for his crimes. How funny that the aristocracy that Harrison resents ends up saving his neck! Too bad Harrison doesn't see or appreciate the irony. [spoiler ends]
There are also many rather abrupt head-hopping in the narration that gets annoying after a while.
At the end of the day, sneaking around in bedrooms and study rooms is not a smart idea, come to think of it, so Harrison comes off as a pretty dim-witted fool. He's the Earl of Bryden, and in a time when rank has its privileges, I find it hard to believe that he can't do anything other than to sneak around other people's houses. As for Charlotte, I don't want to talk about her anymore. Frankly I've had enough of heroines like her that apparently do not have any capability to think and formulate decisions rationally. Two dim-witted characters in a plot that could have been interesting but instead turns out as stereotypical as anything, coupled to annoying abrupt changes in points-of-view - ugh, ugh, ugh, these are not a few of my favorite things.
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