Every Whispered Word
by Karyn Monk, historical (2005)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58442-1
I think I'll get in trouble for saying this but Karyn Monk's Every Whispered Word is like some kindergarten kiddies putting on their own version of The Sound Of Music on stage. Some people will find such performance valiant and beautiful, others will squirm in their seats as they find themselves entertaining thoughts that they know they shouldn't (such as "Please Lord, let this end quick because I swear this is the most hideous caterwauling I have ever heard!"), and others will openly sneer and make fun of the production. This book has children, women, and animals behaving "cute", which often translates to "juvenile", "too obvious", "crude", "shoot 'em, somebody", and "oh, just shoot me instead". Some readers will love these elements, others will squirm because they know that they shouldn't be so politically incorrect to call those kiddies names, and others will openly call this book a dud. Me, I sort of hover between the second and third group. Oh, alright, I'm one foot in the third camp.
Camelia Marshall is the quissential bluestocking heroine: she loves her daddy, she is following her daddy's footstep, and her behavior, often devoid of common sense, is passed off as something adorably gauche or eccentric. Camelia is looking for the Tomb of Kings in South Africa. Being a good heroine, it's not as if she is so tasteless as to crave fame among the literati or anything, so don't fret, genteel readers. She just wants to restore her late father's good name when his peers ridiculed him for looking for the Tomb in Africa instead of Egypt. I'm sure those peers are touched by this loyal daughter's loyalty to her father. Maybe they will chip in for the tombstone that reads: "Like father, like daughter: sharing a brain cell between the two of them."
Because Camelia, alas, for all her reputed brainpower that Ms Monk insists that she has, is as dumb as a tombstone. Her dig is flooded and she needs a pump to clear the water. She doesn't have any money to buy a pump but she insists that those De Beers corporate pigs have told everyone not to sell her a pump. She then reads that Simon Kent in London has invented a new pump that runs on steam and she charges straight to him and asks him to sell her the pump. Her payment will be in the form of "profits" from her dig in the next two years. Maybe she can find some big bones and make a fortune in the dogfood industry, I suppose. Simon understandably balks at this nonsense so Camelia decides to steal his blueprints and make a pump herself. Okay, so she's resourceful. There's that, I suppose. Simon gives chase and finds her being accosted by thugs who warn her to stay out of Africa. Simon happens to have some big firecrackers (no, no, silly, real firecrackers) and uses them to scare the thugs off. He then decides to go with Camelia to South Africa where he will pump her, er, make her a brand new pump that will keep her happy.
Camelia is one demented lady who has no common sense and often endangers people around her in her "my way or no way" way of thinking, but Ms Monk thinks that Camelia is just being so adorable and eccentric that way. Camelia also has a menagerie of pets, such as the monkey that understands English very well, a clever snake (really), and a parrot that won't shut up. Then there are those servants, all of them so dotty. Every secondary character and pet is so over-the-top colorful and in-your-face with their "Me! I'm so cute! Look at me!" antics that the story becomes more annoying than enjoyable. And then there are the laughably simplistic soapbox moments of racism. If Ms Monk wants to truly smash racism to bits, why not make Simon a Black hero? Just a thought, really.
Every Whispered Word has too many Walt-Disney moments at the expense of character development and credible romance, with the author's sense of humor often coming off as forced and self-conscious. She used to write romance novels that are on the strong dramatic side but now she's amping up the performing monkeys in her stories to mask the underdeveloped condition of her works. What happened, I wonder?
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