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The Deception by Catherine Coulter
(Topaz, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-451-40858-6
***
I really don't know why I am bothering to review The Deception. The book has been out for a couple of weeks and last time I passed my friendly neighborhood B.Dalton's, it was listed as #2 on their paperback bestseller list. So I gather all of Coulter's many fans have purchased her latest rewrite of an earlier Regency. But if there are some among you who have not yet taken the plunge, I find that I simply cannot recommend this book to TRR readers. I don't exactly warn against it, but I don't really think this rehashing of an old story provides as much entertainment value for the money as do many of the new releases on the shelves.

Let me begin by stating that this is the third Coulter rewrite I have read, but only the first where I have previously read the Rregency on which the novel is based. And I frankly felt that the Regency, An Intimate Deception was a better read.

The story and characters are exactly the same. Evangeline de Beauchamps, the half-English daughter of a returned French émigré, is forced to act as a spy when her beloved father is seized by zealots seeking to return Napoleon to the throne of France. She is ordered to make her way to the castle of her cousin's widowed husband and to await instructions.

The Duke of Portsmouth is surprised to find a young woman in his library when he returns to his ancestral halls. At first he thinks she is young person seeking to raise his depressed spirits. (A good friend has just been murdered by unknown persons who are probably French sympathizers.) He then realized that Evangeline is a lady and is much taken by her charms.

Evangeline, per her instructions, claims that she is a impecunious widow and begs to be given the position of nanny to the Duke's son, Edmund. The duke, attracted to her face, personality, and especially her form, does not know what to make of the young woman, but agrees that he has a responsibility to his deceased wife's cousin. She becomes a member of his household while the duke tries to figure out what he feels about her.

Meanwhile, Evangeline discovers the traitor who has placed her in this desperate position. He is Sir John Edgerton, a highly placed civil servant and friend of the Duke. Sir John is a utterly reprehensible villain who once had designs on Evangeline's person and now delights in having her in his power. A real scum bag.

And here is where I started to have trouble with the story. Evangeline's only task seems to be to signal in other members of Edgerton's espionage crew as they come to land in England, to attest to their identity, and to send them off to London. The importance of this role and why such a convoluted plot was necessary to get Evangeline into the duke's castle remained hazy to me as was why her spy persona, "the Eagle" should become the band of British counterespionage agents.

And here's where I believe the expansion of the original story into a long historical fell apart. In the short, intense Regency, the exact nature of Evangeline's espionage seemed less salient than its impact on her and on her relationship with the hero. However, when I am faced with a 384 page book, I expect a plot with more coherence and complexity. I did not find such a plot in The Deception.

What I felt I found instead was a lot of padding, that is, extraneous scenes that advanced neither the plot nor the relationship between the heroine and the hero. And I must admit that I found the heroine's behavior somewhat inexplicable. She felt guilt and angst, but she never took the steps that might have helped her out of her predicament.

And there were all those strange, intrusive references to Coulter's new fad of "cat racing" which had nothing whatsoever to do with the story.

I guess what I am saying is that a plot that worked pretty well in a short Regency didn't work in a long historical. I had to struggle my way through the book, especially in the middle chapters. What saved The Deception from a two heart rating was a pretty effective grand finale. But it sure was a bit of a slog to get there.

--Jean Mason


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