The Imposter

The Pretender

The Spy

The Charmer by Celeste Bradley
(St. Martin’s, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-99971-2
The Charmer, the fourth book in the Liars Club series, is the weakest entry in what had up until now been a entertaining and delightful series. Author Celeste Bradley's talent is such that even her poorer efforts qualify as acceptable, but readers who don't deal well with disappointment may want to think twice before opening this one.

Rose Lacey, a secondary character in The Imposter, is a former housemaid and trainee in the Liars Club. This secret organization provides heroes to fight for truth, justice, and the Regency British way. In training, Rose has been paired with Collis Tremayne, the heir to Lord Ethridge, a prominent character in preceding books. Collis often calls her Briar Rose which she finds insulting. When Rose and Collis’s rivalry gets out of hand during a martial arts type contest and they set the place on fire, they are given a joint assignment, something of a field training exercise.

Rose is sent to retrieve a specific folder that will outline their mission but returns with the wrong one. She and Collis set off on their assignment, still competitors. It isn’t until Rose is inside the house that she realizes her error – she is in Louis Wadsworth’s house rather than that of the intended target. Rose had been forced into a sexual relationship with Louis when she was a young girl working in his father’s house. Rose knows Louis, the head of a munitions company, to be thoroughly unscrupulous. She suspects he must be involved in some traitorous way with the French. She intends to use this opportunity to uncover the truth.

Rose’s suspicions prove valid. Soon she and Collis along with the Prince Regent are on a mission to foil Wadsworth’s dastardly plot.

Rose is a departure from the heroines of the three earlier books. They were intelligent, competent women. Rose is supposed to be intelligent – her speed at learning to read would seem to prove that – but she displays some behavior that comes too close to TSTL (too stupid to live) territory for comfort. She knocks over a pile of files then just grabs one rather than checking to see if she’s got the right one. Rather than admit her error, she just plunges on.

Collis, however, would be a good match for her – he’s not the sharpest tool in the drawer either – if their romance had any spark other than the flammable, burn-down-the-house kind. The progression from rivals to lovers lacks credibility. There’s a lot of panting after body parts but no depth of feeling that takes it from lust to love. The difference in their stations is quickly glossed over – Rose worries that her working class past is a barrier to a relationship with Collis but no one else seems to, even the Prince Regent.

Ignoring the borderline TSTL behavior of the main characters, the treason story line is interesting and helps to redeem the book. Moreover, few historical romances present a portrayal of life among the lower classes other than providing an opportunity for the heroine to demonstrate her charitable nature. The Charmer does give a rare glimpse into the life of the serving class.

I can highly recommend the first three books in this series: The Pretender, The Imposter and The Spy. Sadly, The Charmer doesn’t live up to the promise in its title.

--Lesley Dunlap

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