My Fallen Angel by Pamela Britton
(Harper, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-101431-1
**
My Fallen Angel takes the ubiquitous tortured hero to a new level -- this guy’s been struck by lightning and is dead. Lest you worry that this is a somber, dour tale, let me assure you that it’s not. This book can be properly termed a romp. Unfortunately, the attempt to create a laugh-out-loud story is not completely successful, and the fault lies primarily with the heroine.

The Regency-era historical begins when Garrick Asquith-Wolf is fighting pirates off the Barbary Coast. In full view of awe-struck witnesses, he is struck by lightning.

A month later Lucy Hartford is attempting to break into a house in order to find papers to prove that Tom, the boy living with Lucy and her aunt, is the true heir to the earl of Selbourne. She falls out of a tree (to put it as kindly as possible, Lucy is a little uncoordinated) and lands on Garrick. Although now deceased, Garrick has returned to earth on a mission to prove Tom’s parentage as the price for his admission to heaven. While he is in solid human form, he is under strict limitations as to what activities he is permitted and kissing and similar behavior are absolutely forbidden as Arlan, Garrick’s Heavenly Guidance Counselor, reminds him during his occasional appearances.

Lucy decides that she and Garrick should join forces in finding the necessary proof of Tom’s identity. At the same time, they both find themselves overwhelmingly attracted to each other. This leads to a series of barely related episodes where Lucy and Garrick turn up at one unlikely location after another, encounter various predicaments, and have lots of opportunities to engage in lusty behavior.

I may have been too hasty in accusing previous heroines of being TSTL (too-stupid-to-live). They were regular little Einsteins compared to Lucy in My Fallen Angel. The devil (that’s right, the CEO of the halls of fire and brimstone) tells Garrick that he’s been deliberately set up to be attracted to Lucy. That explains a lot. I can’t imagine any vaguely intelligent male wanting to get within a mile of this walking disaster. If this were a movie, she’d be played by Jerry Lewis. She specializes in clumsy accidents, devises dopey schemes that get her into trouble every time, and her conversation can cause eyes to glaze over. It sure did mine.

“I thought I told you to stay below.” (That’s Garrick speaking.)

“You did.”

“And?”

She shrugged. “I felt like getting some fresh air.”

“You disobeyed me.”

“Yes, I know. And it’s a lovely day to disobey someone, don’t you think?”

I enjoyed the occasional interlude where Garrick is visited by other-worldly denizens. Those amusing exchanges demonstrate that the author can employ a light touch with humorous dialogue. But the story’s heavy reliance on “physical comedy” for its humor simply doesn’t translate well to the written page.

Moreover, the kitchen sink plotting (pirates and a lost heir and ghosts and heavenly counselors and scheming villains and a parrot with a vulgar vocabulary and more, more, more) overwhelms any semblance of a rational plot. As the story jumps from one farfetched episode to another, it’s pretty easy to forget what is the supposed purpose in all this running around.

There’s an additional problem of characters’ names being dropped into the story with inadequate preparation. This is the author’s debut novel, but at times I felt as though I was reading a sequel. Perhaps Garrick and Lucy are acquainted with these various characters, but readers aren’t. Too often I found myself wondering, “Who’s that?”

Readers who are desperate for a light, fantasy romance may get a few chuckles out of My Fallen Angel, but the excessively irritating heroine and lack of a coherent plot are likely to turn off many readers.

--Lesley Dunlap


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