The Ashcroft Curse
A Lover's Kiss

Double Deception by Maria Greene
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7645-2
Widowed Lenore Andrews, late from the Colonies (were they still called that in Regency England? They’d been independent for nearly thirty years) accidentally leaves her diary in a tearoom after taking tea with some friends. Why on earth she’d bring her private diary to a restaurant is never really explained, but Eric Ramsdell, who has been admiring Lenore from across the tearoom, finds the diary and can’t resist taking a peek. He opens to the end, and the convenient – and completely unconvincing - final entry tells him Lenore’s entire life history, more or less. Her husband was a spy who never loved her, never trusted her, kept a mistress, had illegitimate children, men are all beasts, she will Never Love Again, etc.

Eric can’t resist making an entry of his own in the back of the diary. In it, he chides the widow for her blanket assessment of men and their motives, and suggests that her late husband may have had a darn good reason for not telling his wife all about his work for the Crown, namely her safety and the integrity of the government. Then he leaves the diary where she will be sure to find it when she returns to look. This deception, such as it is, is afoot. Meanwhile, Eric is introduced to Lenore in perfectly acceptable fashion by a mutual friend. He gives his name as “Mr. Ramsey”, however, and this is the “double deception” of the title. Eric has his reasons, and they play out in unfortunate predictability.

Lenore, when she finds the diary, is incensed. How dare someone write in her diary, and tell her she might be wrong, at that? For, as readers find out all too soon, Lenore is Never Wrong. Nevernevernever. Even when she admits the unknown writer may have a point. A conversation via the diary is begun.

The story becomes even more loaded with plot conveniences when it’s divulged that Eric was the only man present the day Lenore’s brother was killed during a chariot race, and he is the suspected murderer, though no evidence was found. Lenore, of course, instantly assumes Eric is guilty and murdered her brother in cold blood. After all, he was there! He must have done it, and nothing Eric can say in his defense will sway her opinion.

Lenore is, to put it mildly, a tiresome, waspish twit. She spends most of the book lashing out at Eric, insulting him, cutting him to the quick, and he, of course, falls in love with her rather than dropping her flat. Because she’s lovely! And so high-spirited! With this razor-sharp assessment of Lenore’s character, Eric descended into idiot territory. This is love? No, thanks.

And what a shame, because initially Eric showed some wit and was at least willing to challenge Lenore on her stubborn beliefs. That goes right out the Regency window by the halfway mark, and the only reason this book gets two hearts is because the real villain was quite interesting. Lenore, after much hissing and sniping, is finally forced to admit that Eric doesn’t seem the type to murder a man in cold blood, and they join forces to unmask the real killer, while finding out a few truths about her beloved brother. Deceived by her husband, completely wrong about Eric, and in the dark about her own sibling – this woman was no judge of character.

Double Deception may not irritate others as much as it did me, but I can’t recommend it. There are much more pleasant heroines with whom to spend your time.

--Cathy Sova

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