Tempting
by Hope Tarr, historical (2002)
Jove, $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13365-5


Halfway through Tempting, I had a strange dream. The ghost of Barbara Cartland, dressed in pink frilly tutus and a wearing poodle-shaped pale gold wig, sits before me and starts reading aloud the words from Tempting. I've never met the late Barbara Cartland or heard her speak, but the voice I heard was something Maggie Smith would sound like if she has bad sore throat and high on helium. The reason for this ghastly dream, I suspect, is because Tempting seems to have waltzed right out of a 1980s romance novel timewarp, minus the rape scenes and stuff, naturally.

Our young, innocent, girly, waifish, et cetera heroine Christine Tremayne is tricked into being a whore, but she is rescued by our hero Simon Belleville when he raids the brothel where she is trapped. Simon finds this malnourished, waifish, very young girl pitiful... with great breastage, lips, hair, thighs, hubba hubba hubba. I try to reconcile the idea of a skeletal malnourished and no doubt dirty young girl with the hubba hubba breastage and thighage factor, but the image is too ghastly to contemplate. It must be an "Only in romance novels" thing.

So he takes her to his place, where his staff descend like vultures bent on matchmaking. But Christine is wild and angry - she just wants to be free so that she will wander the streets and knock on every door she can find hoping for "honest work" (smart girl) - and in the end, Simon leaves her with his ex-mistress, your Madame Who Ran A Brothel But Now Runs A More Reputable Finishing School Thing, and that's it.

But months later, our heroine, still young, still mammaricious, still innocent, is back. She is even more lovely than before. Simon takes her back in and passes her off as his cousin. He wants to find a better life for her. Simon is also tempted. He wants. But he cannot! He has a Parliament seat to consider. So what will it be, Simon you pervert? Sleep with the malnourished, overbreasted, pitiful waif to save her from herself, or to win a Parliament seat? Decisions, decisions.

This is strictly a rescue fantasy, and not a very interesting one at that. Christine, apart from overblown descriptions of her innocence, purity, and other pedophile-friendly catchphrases, remain a mystery to me. Why does she love that man enough to pretend that "for one night, he was hers"? I have no idea what makes her tick, she remains an anorexic, big-boobed damsel-in-distress whose idea of a grand finale pro-active action is to run away and weep that he is too good for her. Oh, and she's generous with the "sweet" cats and puppies moments, thus making her even more of a matchstick girl kinda character. Pathetic and sympathetic, and one step away from being run over by a carriage. If Simon the Prof Higgins asks her to fetch him his shoes, watch her bark and drool before scaddling off pronto to find the shoes in question.

Simon is even more confusing. The opening prologue sees him as a street urchin who learns the hard way that life on the streets are beyond brutal. I'd expect him to support Gladstone's policy of reformation of prostitutes, not to decry the man as a hypocrite and support Disraeli instead. But that's what he does. He raids brothels as part of his job as a Morality and Vice Commission, but he shows contempt for the people on the streets. Given his life experiences, such behavior doesn't make sense, and nowhere in this story does Ms Tarr succeed in convincing me why Simon turns out the way he did. He's dark, but dark in a formulaic, safe romance novel sense.

Since I don't coddle up to the fantasy of Ally McBeal's malnourished dim-witted sister being rogered into enlightenment and common sense, Tempting fails to tempt me in any way. It's not a bad read, to be honest, but with vague characterizations and a heroine too trigger-happy with the "I'm not worthy, see me run!" antics, this book just doesn't deliver as much as it should. Fans more amenable to outright rescue fantasies, though, will more likely find this book just perfect for their afternoon read.

Rating: 77


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