The Charmer
by Celeste Bradley, historical (2004)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-99971-2

I have never met a pair of idiots like the spy duo of Rose Lacey and Collis Tremayne in The Charmer. If this is what spies should aspire to be all about, heaven help the great British Empire. Any similarity between "spy heroine" Rose Lacey and "spy rogue" Collis Tremayne to any secret agent with a functional brain is a figment of your imagination.

These two agents of the Liar's Club have been indulging in what Ms Bradley hopes to be a playfully antagonistic relationship filled with sexual tension but actually the relationship is more akin to two schoolyard kids pulling at each other's hair. When their childish competition gets physical and results in a fire - a literal fire, not the metaphorical one - these two are forced to make amends by working together. That makes sense, really, forcing two quarrelsome children to work together to save the country. It's a good thing that they are covert agents because if word gets out, everyone in England will be migrating to France en masse.

And my God, these people! I'm talking about Rosey, in a childish fit of temper, knocking down a pile of files in the target's house and then randomly grabbing one instead of actually searching for the paramount file she is supposed to retrieve for her superiors. Or how she can actually enter the wrong person's house without realizing it. Or how she goes off to some dangerous solo mission when she's obviously too bird-brained to take care of herself. Collis is also guilty of as many stupid decisions and actions as Rosey. It gets to a point where I wonder whether Ms Bradley is pulling a joke on me. The romance is utterly juvenile, consisting chiefly of love-hate bickerings punctuated by reckless clashings of loins.

The Charmer tries to milk its laughs from having its characters behave as stupidly as possible and then some more. Yes, Ms Bradley has return to her roots and it's not a good thing considering that her debut is as full of too-stupid moments as The Charmer. After four books, shouldn't Ms Bradley have moved on from mindless tomfoolery in her stories?

Rating: 46

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