Precious Passion by Elizabeth Doyle
(Zebra, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-6446-2
As a reviewer, there are details in every novel I review that I think potential readers will want to know. Besides the names of the protagonists, I always include the ages of the hero and heroine and -- for an historical romance -- the year and location of the action. Usually such information is readily available to the casual reader, but not in Elizabeth Doyle's unpolished first novel, Precious Passion.

The place was easy to fix. Aurora Black lives in London with her widowed mother and spinster aunt. The time period presented more of a challenge. A specific date never appears in the text, but at one point in the narrative, Aurora reads a book by Dickens. Dickens' first book was published in 1837, so the story cannot be earlier than that. I doubt that it is later than the turn of the 19th century -- there is no mention of the automobile. So…roughly…this is a Victorian novel.

Then there's the business of the ages of the characters. Aurora was either 12 (page 24) or 13 (page 204) when her father died. On page 128, she realizes that both she and the hero, Max Birmingham, lost a parent (her father, his mother) about the same time, five years earlier. Ergo, Aurora is now 17 or 18. Max was 12 when his father died (page 204). Therefore he is 17, too. Of course Max has already completed his studies at Oxford and has been offered a professorship there…. I think the author lost track of her time line.

Aurora plays the piano extraordinarily well and composes as easily as you and I jot a thank-you note. She is opposed to marrying but knows her widowed mother cannot continue to support her. Her solution is to accept an offer from a self-centered young man whom she has only met once and cannot clearly remember.

At their engagement party, she is asked to play the piano. She plays an improvisation of her own, and everyone present (except her narrow-minded betrothed) is amazed. Max Birmingham, the heir to a fortune and a musician himself, is especially impressed and persuades his father to hire Aurora to play at an affair he is giving.

At this same engagement party, before Aurora plays, a scene takes place in which she is gratuitously nasty to another guest. The woman asks her what her father does. Aurora feels that the woman's question is rude and, instead of simply saying that he is dead, she tells the woman that her father is in the business of making phony food out of ground-up cockroaches, and she implies that the food being served is suspect. Although this unpleasant exchange does not have future plot implications, it was enough to destroy Aurora's believability as a character for me. I could not imagine this conversation taking place anywhere, any time.

Subsequent events are not more believable. Even though the affair at which Aurora has been hired to play is an all-male function, she attends unchaperoned. Once again she is a sensation and, exhilarated by her success and the champagne she drinks, Aurora persuades Max to take her along when he and his friends leave the party and head for a pub in a tough neighborhood. There Aurora gets thoroughly drunk and spends the night with Max.

The next morning Aurora blames Max for her adventures, including the loss of her virginity, even though she has been the aggressor every step of the way. She is not ruined, however, because she cooks up an unlikely story that convinces her mother that she and Max were the victims of a robbery and that their overnight stay in a hotel was entirely innocent. Her engagement continues uninterrupted. Max, in the meantime, has fallen in love with Aurora and is determined to win her away from her fiancé.

Throughout the rest of Precious Passion Aurora continues to plunge unthinkingly and tastelessly into adventures, and Max continues to aid and abet her. So unlikely are Aurora's actions that I began to believe that she had inherited the madness that plagues two of her near relations.

Although Doyle writes a satisfactory prose and several of her scenes were plausible, she needs to work on her plot structure and the creation of believable story lines. Perhaps then she will produce a more entertaining work. In the meantime, I suggest you avoid Elizabeth Doyle's Precious Passion.

--Nancy J. Silberstein

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