No True Gentleman
by Liz Carlyle, historical (2002)
Sonnet, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-3784-5

No True Gentleman this may be, but boy, what a mess. The heroine is one bewildering character and the mystery could have been interesting if someone doesn't deus ex drop-a-convenient-clue on the heroine towards the end.

Still, interesting hero, this one has, and Liz Carlyle has reined in the "impossibly long arms" verbal diarrhea that goes out of control in her last few books. And oh, she only uses three trite plot devices this time around. Maybe four. Wait, five. Uh, never mind. But No True Gentleman feels somewhat fresh and lacks the tired overdone feel of the last few books, so that's a good thing.

The hero, Maximilian de Rohan - the only good thing about this story, apart from his grandmother Sofia - is not a usual hero in that his past experiences with adultery with a married woman has given him a rather unrakish view about playing the field. He works with the Home Office, conducting investigations, helping the downtrodden, and befriending ruffians. Emotionally distant, smitten with heroine Catherine Wodeway, skilled, and an alpha bubbling under his beta facade, he is the most well-developed character in this book (other than Sofia). He has a sad family past, but he doesn't whine or moan about it. He's just Johnny Depp's healthier, happier From Hell character keeping the streets of London safe. Sigh.

He notices Catherine riding alone in the mornings at some quiet and dangerous places - a nice introduction to a romance heroine, I'm sure - and tries to warn her. She flirts with him, asks him out for dinner, and when he makes a more risque rejoinder, she tells him to "take that fancy stick of yours and go bugger yourself with it." Ten points and a Tiger for that woman!

In the meantime, de Rohan's friend Cecilia asks him to help when her brother is suspected of murder of his Slut Wife. Catherine just has to poke her nose in, and de Rohan has to ponder his amorous feelings for her as they do a Scarecrow and Mrs King together. Catherine, well, he has her at hello, really.

Seriously, I don't know what that Catherine woman is doing, thinking, feeling, or saying. She doesn't make sense. Why is she riding off in dark lonely places like that? Why is she so besotted with de Rowan, apparently from the get go to the point that she invites this stranger she meets in a deserted place for dinner? At her place, of all places? When her own brother is implicated in the murder, her reaction seems to be muted. She's just there like a cardboard cut-out marked "Emotional Catharsis, Just Kiss Me Here".

But I do know that she is a widow, and she believes herself to be barren. Yes, and after one night of palooka with de Rohan and it's Boing! time. If I can collect the sperm of romance heroes (ugh), I bet I can make a killing in the fertility black market.

The mystery presents a pleasant diversion to the conundrum that is Catherine until Ms Carlyle decides to make Catherine the Fred of this story.

(Fred? That's an Angel reference - Fred's the deus ex machina character in that TV show: she's beautiful, she's helpless, she babbles inanely, and when the plot needs a miracle cure, Fred is it! Want a website? Fred may have spent 5 years in a cave, but she can whip one up, pronto! With flash too! Want a translator for some ancient Wuka-Ukka scroll? Call Fred! Want a damsel in distress? Freddie! Want a mathematician extraordinaire? Fred's one too! Physicist? Here's Fred! Geologist? Fred reporting for duty! Want to die? Let's kill Fred! Ahem.)

Did I mention that I find Freddism very, very annoying?

Incidentally, I also like Granny Sofia a lot. She's a survivor who displays strength as well as vulnerabilities. She could've been an irritating matchmaker if she isn't so human and vulnerable. She's also much more real than Catherine, which I find rather bewildering. Isn't Catherine the heroine?

In a sense, I guess I can concede that Catherine can be considered intelligent as far as romance heroines go. But for too long her motivations remain a mystery and I never get a sense of her character long after the story has ended.

In that sense, Liz Carlyle's No True Gentleman is a success as well as a failure. A success in that a hero who tries so hard to emulate the dictates of Lord Chesterfield's book The Fine Gentleman's Etiquette (and fails) has somewhat captured my imagination. A failure in that I never know what makes the intrepid, spunky, but vague heroine ticks and hence the romance fumbles very badly. In de Rohan's mesmerizing presence, what little charisma Catherine has is ground to dust. The sad thing is, I can't help feeling that it's not that great a loss.

Rating: 79

PS: Hubby couldn't get past page 161. He wishes to tell Ms Carlyle that real men don't hesitate to pull the handle for a cold shower, so to speak, when said men are worked up over a woman. No pulling the handle because he doesn't want to degrade his lust for her? Says hubby, "Looooooooser."

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