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Daring by Jillian Hunter
(Pocket, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-00158-2
***
Daring by Jillian Hunter will undoubtedly appeal to a large number of romance readers those that like humorous stories and who prefer their humor broad and of the slapstick variety. Readers who prefer a more subtle approach to humor in their novels may be less enthralled by this book. At one point while reading it, I felt that Hunter had made a list of every potentially humorous incident that could be shoe horned into a Regency era historical, and then devised a story to fit the pratfalls.

This is probably unfair, but there can be too much of a good thing. I can't help but feel that the humor in any novel should arise from the plot, not overshadow it. It seemed to me that Hunter was so busy creating "humor moments," that she lost sight of the need to provide a coherent and compelling plot.

We meet the heroine, Maggie Saunders as she is attempting to break into the house of Connor Buchanan, Lord Advocate of Scotland sometime after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Buchanan has recently been appointed to this position because of his reputation as a highly effective prosecutor of criminals.

Maggie and her cohort Hugh have come to steal a copy of a confession that they believe Buchanan has extorted from a poor, befuddled old man. Given Buchanan's reputation (and the fact that Maggie has lived for five years among thieves who have every right to fear Buchanan), Maggie is completely willing to believe that Connor is in fact a ruthless prosecutor who will do anything to "solve" a case.

Of course, the break-in goes awry, Maggie meets Connor who is instantly attracted to her but who believes she is someone else, Connor's sister is abducted despite Maggie's attempt to thwart the kidnapping by attacking the driver with a purloined champagne bottle, Maggie is hailed as a heroine, Connor is suspicious but attracted, and the two decide to travel from Edinburgh to the highlands together, accompanied by an elderly French butler and a French poodle and driven by a drunken driver who gets them into all sorts of trouble. Oh yes, and followed by a mysterious figure dressed in black who seems to have some sort of designs on Maggie, and whose appearance results in Connor's shooting a scarecrow by mistake.

(Did I forget to mention that Maggie is really the daughter of a French duke who was executed by Napoleon's agents for spying for the British and who fled to an aunt in Scotland and ended up when her aunt died living among Edinburgh's "king of thieves" who is really a near-sighted highland lord whose clan was wiped out by disease?) Whew!

Of course, Connor lusts after Maggie, then decides he loves her, then pursues her, then finally seduces her in a scene that contains some of the purplest prose I have read in many a month. And there is so much more, including a battle of the sexes among the servants at Connor's highland home where he has come both to pursue clues about his one sister's "kidnapping," protect another sister from the threat of possible kidnapping, and enjoy a short vacation before undertaking the prosecution of a vile murderer.

Does this give you some sense of Daring's nature? I have to admit that I liked the hero and heroine, found some of the secondary characters amusing, yet found myself wishing that the book would end (always a bad sign, because it wasn't that I wanted to find out what happened; I just wanted it done.)

So, if you like your humor broad and aren't looking for much in the way of plot or character development, then Daring might provide you with a few hours of pleasant reading. But if you want a book that truly integrates humor into a well-written Regency historical, go find one of Julia Quinn's books, or, better yet, read Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels.

--Jean Mason


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