The Makeover Misson
by Mary Buckham
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1308, $ 4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-273789
***
Like many first novels, Mary Buckham’s The Makeover Mission is a blend of some very strong areas with threads of tired old plots and innate weaknesses. The great strength is that she presents an active motivated protagonist who is truly involved and drives the plot.

Jane Richards, a librarian from South Dakota, is kidnapped by an agency of the US government. The kidnapper, Major Lucius McConneghy, offers her a true Hobson’s Choice: either impersonate her look-alike, Elena, the fiancée of the king of Vendari who has been the target of an assassin or live in a drugged state until Elena is either safely married or killed.

The choice and the manner in which it is presented are not terribly credible but Jane chooses the waking state.

Jane is then whisked off to the very small foreign kingdom that is vital to US interests and begins her training for the impersonation. Lucius is the tutor. The real Elena is of the manor born: lovely, poised, sophisticated and sufficiently calculating to be the intended of a despot with an over inflated ego. Lucius transforms Plain Jane into the role of the intended. Not only does her facade change, but also the reader is treated to her inner toughening as well. What also becomes apparent is that Elena lacks humanity and Jane supplies it.

Not only do we have shades of Pygmalion here but also the Stockholm Syndrome. True to form Jane falls for her captor, and Lucius spends the novel wrestling with his family’s time honored military tradition of duty and honor before anything.

A couple of feeble attempts are made on Jane’s life and Lucius is right there to prevent any harm. Toward the end of the story the pace quickens, the plot starts twisting in the wind and the novel rushes to an unexpected if somewhat contrived climax.

Absent the weak beginning and end, the author has much to recommend. She has a keen sense of character development and her characters’ dialogue is always natural and crisp, even humorous in places. Buckham manages to sustain not only the sexual conflict but the plot tension with her varied pacing. Her principal character changes in response to the challenges, providing a vitalization to a plot that could be considered all too familiar.

--Thea Davis


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