The characters in this book are so polite, you’d think Miss Manners had written it. No, wait, that’s not a fair comment. Miss Manners has a sense of humor.
Jenna Craddock is the very model of a perfect personal assistant. Her employer is very sad to lose her, but Jenna, who has lived in Australia since she was five, has always wanted to return to her birthplace, Cornwall. Orphaned at age seven, Jenna hopes to find some family there.
In Cornwall, Jenna quickly finds her father’s sister, Morwenna, but is crushed when Morwenna bluntly informs Jenna that she was adopted. Morwenna does mention that someone else was looking for Jenna, though, somebody named Dumas, from Edinburgh.
With nothing to keep her in Cornwall, Jenna decides to head for Scotland in the hope that she can find this Dumas person. To keep busy in the meantime, Jenna goes for a job interview with Sir Ian MacGowan who needs someone to transcribe his dictation. Reputed to be an irascible employer, Ian is recovering from a bad automobile accident and apparently amusing himself by writing a spy novel and bullying the typists.
Naturally, when Jenna arrives she finds that Ian is not the elderly curmudgeon she expected, but rather a “commanding” hunk in his early thirties with riotously curly brown hair and a cleft chin. Ian demonstrates his rudeness and sarcasm by complaining about the previous candidates (“overly sensitive women” who fell apart whenever he frowned at them), demanding to know if she left Australia because of a “lover’s spat,” and informing Jenna that if she’s looking for a flirtation or a personal relationship she’s come to the wrong place. When Jenna responds by asking if he’s always so obnoxious, the two reach an immediate understanding.
Okay, first of all, what century was this book written in? Transcribe his dictation? And young women who fall apart when they’re frowned at? Someone is seriously out of touch with reality here.
Second of all, I don’t think I have ever read a book written for adults that was so totally devoid of any romantic or sexual tension. Jenna spends three months typing up Ian’s dictation before he so much as asks her to have dinner with him – then they spend most of the evening not talking. Now, in real life, the ability to share a comfortable silence with someone can be a lovely thing. In a romance, it’s about as interesting as watching the mating rituals of elderly turtles.
We’re rather primly informed that Jenna begins to have erotic dreams about Ian, and that “the thoughts that popped into her head were much too earthy to be shared.” How very informative. And Ian’s idea of passion is to say, “I want to make love to you...rather desperately, actually.” I have to put the book down so my fingers can warm up.
At this point we discover that the twenty-something Jenna is one of those exasperating virgins who has managed to remain so ludicrously innocent that the first time she sees Ian naked she wonders if he’ll fit, and thinks sex hurts him because of the noises and the faces he makes. Get a library card, Jenna
Since there’s no chemistry between them, it’s almost incidental that Jenna and Ian spend quite a lot of the book apart while Jenna looks for her family. She’s pretty passive about that, as well, her ‘search’ consisting mainly of wandering around Scotland until someone recognizes her. Which people do, of course, thanks to her striking resemblance to other people they know, and family portraits and so forth. This also gives Jenna several opportunities to repeat her life story, so the reader has lots of chances to get tired of hearing it.
Reading this book was a lot like watching something through the wrong end of a telescope – the one that makes things appear even smaller and more remote than they already are. If you’re looking for interesting characters, or a gripping story, or romance, you won’t find them here.
-- Judi McKee