Never Trust A Lady
by Suzanne Robinson, historical (2003)
Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58423-5
If this inept little tale of pre-American Civil War mystery is better written, I may overlook the unbelievably skimpy romance to enjoy myself. But what good is a mystery when the hero and the villain both come off like soulmates in amateurish tomfoolery?
Set in the time when the North and South of the still young United States of America are going to come to blows over the issue of slavery, Lady Eva Sparrow is a British genteel lady who, while visiting her greatuncle and greataunt in Natchez, becomes greatly sympathetic to the plight of the slaves she encounters. When she is given a chance to aid the cause of the North and to foil a dastardly plot set in motion by the South (to assassinate an English VIP, blame it on the abolitionists, and get England to aid the South against their fight with the North), she is more than willing to help. The man she is to work with, Ryder Drake, however, doesn't want her to work with him even as he wants her to work under him, if you know what I mean. Don't worry if you don't. Occasionally the author will have Ryder and Eva admire each other's physique - oh, like maybe for one paragraph every ten pages - so that I will remember that these two are supposed to care for each other. Right, and while I'm at it, who has some pyramids in Egypt for sale again?
Eva, on the whole, is an admirable heroine. She has convinctions, she knows her stuff, and in fact, she's the one that correctly deduces the identity of the VIP that the assassin hired by the South to kill. There are only two instances where she does some stupid things (read: following people alone in the dark), and while she doesn't acquit herself well from those moments of foolhardiness, she's lucky the hero fares even worse - Ryder makes Eva really look good.
Ryder, Ryder. How do I start? Where do I start? If this guy is supposed to be a top brain of the North, it's amazing how the North actually gotten this far in history. He's an idiot. He persists in wanting to get rid of Eva solely because of his chauvinism. It's the same old story: his mother is fickle and flaky, so all women are flaky and fickle. Then, when he finally changes his mind, he still wants to stop Eva from meddling because he doesn't want her to get hurt. He's assuming she will screw up things and get hurt, of course. The joke's on him, because Eva emerges smarter and more capable than this brick-headed moron. While he's stupidly making Eva jealous by pretending to court an Evil Ho, Eva's the one doing the real secret agent stuff that leads to her correctly deducing the identity of the VIP. And even then, nobody believes her and she has to do everything solo just to save the day. If she puts herself in danger, it's because she's not only an inexperienced agent, she has no backing or support from the men that recruited her. In this case, Ryder included.
And oh, the villain. I love how the villain, reputed to be the best, the absolute best, in the end still squares off with the hero and tells the hero every freaking thing before they conveniently fight and the villain dies. And the villain dies at the hands of the heroine, not the hero, mind you. So, if I may ask: just what is the hero good for in this story? In the last few pages of the story, Eva complains about Ryder still allowing his prejudice to overlook her abilities, but it's not enough to redeem Ryder. He's still a useless tosser. This is one story where the heroine is better off getting a vibrator - or whatever it is they use in those times - than to saddle herself with an inept loser that will no doubt be a ten-ton burden around her neck.
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