No Longer A Gentleman
by Mary Jo Putney, historical (2012)
Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-1723-3
Our hero Grey Sommers, Lord Wyndham, was one of the many English lords and ladies who went to a post-Revolution France ten years ago during the truce for leisure and pleasure. At the request of a friend, he decided to look out for information that can be of use to the Crown. Unfortunately, he did this by sleeping with the wife of a high-ranking French officer and getting caught in the act. This caused him to spend ten years languishing in the man's personal dungeon, thought to be dead by his friends and family members. Until, when the story opens. his secret agent buddies realize that he's alive and our heroine, the spy known as Cassie Fox, springs him out of the joint. They will fall in love as they flee back to England, but, of course, their enemies won't let them get away so easily.
No Longer A Gentleman is in some ways comparable to Petals In The Storm, mostly because it involves intrigue against the French, a heroine with an unhappy past who eventually became a spy for the greater good of the country, and a hero who is supposed to be far less capable than the heroine. Supposed to be, that is: romance novel formula generally dictates that the heroine must be second fiddle to the hero, and the author adheres to that formula here eventually. However, I'd personally say that Petals In The Storm - which has its own issues as well - is generally a better book than this one. This is mostly because this book has many moments that I find simply unbelievable.
For example, the cartoon villain, who by all means is as greedy and materialistic as he is just pure evil, actually allowed the hero to languish ten years in his prison without asking for ransom. It's not like he had the hero tortured daily with some body bits amputated here and there for pleasure - the hero was instead allowed to languish ten years in a smelly cell, left alone for the most part, to the point that he still has broad shoulders when the heroine finds him and, once you cut away the long beard and hair, is still as gorgeous as ever. A cartoon money-grubby villain spending ten years leaving our hero alone in his cell and spending his own money to feed the hero in the process? Give me a break.
Our heroine, who is supposedly capable, often shows some lapse of judgment that do not jive with her character. When she and our hero are on the run, being hounded by every villain and his dog, they sleep without having anyone stay on watch. For someone who has supposedly done and seen things that an ordinary woman generally doesn't over the years, Cassie still manages to be shocked and horrified when our hero snaps and kills his prison guard. These are just two examples of instances where our heroine does not behave like the hardened and cynical spy that she is written to be. These out-of-character moments break me out of the story and have me scratching my head, because some of these moments - like the heroine acting shocked when the hero hurts or kills somebody - are immersion-breaking. It also doesn't help that the author goes great lengths to keep Cassie's hands clean - the hero is the one who ends up bloodying people most of the time because he has a penis and therefore a passport to do "bad" things without getting crucified by angry romance readers.
Cassie's motivations are also hard to believe at times. For example, she deliberately avoids contact with her family members for bizarre reasons that can be summed up as "just because", even before she becomes a spy. Her reasons for not wanting to have a happily ever after with Grey have little to do with the discrepancy in their perceived social standing (which would be more realistic) and more to do with her belief that he'd have different goals and ambitions one year down the road and she doesn't want to hold him back. The whole thing feels so much like a woman's desire to be a martyr for love after watching too many daytime TV talk shows. The only thing that is in character with Cassie's role as a spy is her attitude towards sex. Having slept with guys before for reasons that have nothing to do with her personal feelings for those men, she doesn't have a problem in sleeping with Grey as long as they are both consenting adults. I like this aspect of her - considering how unlike a spy Cassie has been in so many areas, I'm relieved that Ms Putney allows Cassie at least one believable aspect in her personality. Then again, it can be argued that this aspect of Cassie is an excuse to include a love scene early in the story, heh.
As for Grey, we are talking about a fellow who decides, as the first thing on his agenda after he's on the run, to sneak off alone in the dead of morning to skinny dip in a lake. Instead of worrying about how he'd make his way back to England, he's far more focused on his desire to shag Cassie up and down. Ms Putney tries to rationalize this behavior as a result of anger and desire for vengeance not settling in yet on Grey, but I find that the author's depiction of Grey's horndog antics unintentionally hilarious. That guy has the stamina to keep wanting to shag after ten years of incarceration in a filthy and dirty dungeon? And he takes a dip into the lake, thus risking capture, instead of just using his hands to, er, release the pressure?
Then again, Grey's incarceration is the stuff of pink daffodils and Belle walking around town in the morning while singing about how every day is the same as the one before. At first Grey is full of self-pity and negative thoughts, but quickly, he decides to adopt a more positive attitude during his incarceration. This, I'm told, leads to him befriending the household staff through the slit in the prison wall, getting them to give him apples and stuff, and, when he's bored, singing in his marvelous baritone to birds and what not. Did I mention that his captor is supposed to be pure evil? And yet, Grey manages to turn his whole incarceration into something akin to My Little Ponies: The Prison Movie Special.
I can go on and on about the more hard-to-believe moments in this story, but I'm sure you have a good idea by now about how fundamentally flawed this story is. This is a shame, because Cassie and Grey are actually likable characters who just happen to have weird motivations and plot baggage attached to them. The writing is clean, but I'm too busy turning the pages, often with my mouth hanging open in disbelief, to appreciate this. Perhaps readers who can successfully overlook the many head-scratching moments in the plot can enjoy this book better. I don't know. Just approach this one with caution. Or, heck, just read Petals In The Storm instead, if you haven't.
This book at Amazon.com
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