Nick of Time

A Spirited Seduction

Tiger by the Tail

Cat and the Countess
by Casey Claybourne
(Berkley, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-17335-6
I noted in a recent review that a book doesnít work for me if the hero appears weak. Well, I guess Iím pretty fussy because this book didnít work for me because the heroine came across as too weak. I think I can forgive most human foibles, especially in the novels I read. But I donít like it when a character appears to have so little spine as Elizabeth Langham, Countess of Pemsley displays in Cat and the Countess.

Elizabeth is a relatively recent widow, having lost her much older husband sixteen months earlier. The mother of a nine-year-old boy, she is being courted by the Marquess of Crestwick. But apparently Peter will not ask her to marry him until his mother approves. And as her friend Valerie, Peterís sister, points out, mother is a tartar.

Elizabeth is understandably nervous about the upcoming meeting and when Elizabeth gets nervous and upset, she has a couple of bad habits. She eats too much and puts on weight and she picks pockets. Obviously, should the latter compulsion be discovered, Elizabeth will lose her position in the ton and her unusual background will come out. But she canít help herself.

One afternoon, while visiting a stationerís shop, she succumbs to her compulsion and lifts a most unusual bag from a most unusual mark.

Wildcat MacGinnis is half Scot and half Delaware Indian. He has come to Britain to meet his Scots family and has come to London on business for the family distillery. He senses that someone is groping him, but when he turns around and sees the proper English lady behind him, he concludes that his unusual looks have once more attracted the attention of a gently bred ďladyĒ who has designs on his person. But Elizabethís behavior belies this fact.

But after she leaves, he discovers that his precious bandolier bag is missing, he realizes that the countess has robbed him.

Wildcat locates the countess and demands his bag back, but the bandolier has disappeared. But, by chance, he meets Valerie, who has been robbed of a family jewel that she must recover. So Wildcat, Valerie and Elizabeth pursue the thief, with the two women acting foolishly more than once.

Elizabeth could have been a very interesting character. Her background and situation are unusual and her achievement in making a place for herself in the ton most impressive. That she should suffer from some insecurity and that this might lead her to kleptomania makes a certain degree of sense. But her vacillation and dependence seem out of character, given who she really is.

As for Wildcat, well if you can accept the image of an Indian brave striding around London in buckskins, braids, feathers, knife and tattoos, well fine. Frankly, he seemed more a caricature than a real person. Sprinkling his conversations and thoughts with a few Indian words and frequent curses does not make him seem particularly authentic.

As for the romance, well, it doesnít particularly work for me. Wildcat and Elizabeth are attracted to each other and act on that attraction. But how they come to love each other is never made clear. I do like some romance in my romances.

While I know that others enjoy Claybourneís books and her fast moving stories, Cat and the Countess is not my kind of romance. Readers who generally share my particular tastes might want to pass this one by.

--Jean Mason

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