has also reviewed:

After the Kiss

The Bodyguard by Joan Johnston
(Island Books (Dell), $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-22377-6
Can you accept the premise that the laird of a Scottish clan (c. 1815) would, on his deathbed, bequeath his position to his daughter with instructions that she is to seduce the Englishman (a duke) who now holds the family lands into a handfast marriage as a way of saving the clan from his ruthless financial exactions? Can you believe that this same duke, while sailing to Scotland, would become the victim of attempted murder, but would make his way to land despite bound hands and feet? Can you believe that our duke, now suffering from amnesia, would find his way to the barn of this same young lady, save her from being raped by one of her clansmen (who wants to marry her and become chief), and be taken on as her bodyguard?

Interestingly, Joan Johnston managed to keep me on board through all the above improbabilities. Indeed, I was somewhat astonished by her ability to make it all seem at least minimally plausible. In fact, as long as our duke was clueless, the novel held promise. For me, at least, The Bodyguard slipped from a recommended read to a simply acceptable romance after the Duke of Blackthorne recovered his memory.

Kitt Mackinnon is our heroine. At 23, she watches her beloved father die and swears to undertake to save the clan by the above described expedient. Obviously, the male contingent of the clan are not happy about having a female as chief. Kitt has spent her life trying to be the son her father never had, but she is not really the Amazon she tries to ape. Yet she has been bred to care for her people and is willing to sacrifice herself for their wellbeing.

Alastair Wharton, sixth Duke of Blackstone, was a secondary character in Johnston's last historical novel, After the Kiss. At 33, he is a classic tortured hero. The woman he married for love betrayed him with his own brother. (She is conveniently dead as this book begins.) Worse, she cast doubt on the parentage of the twin daughters he had adored. Apparently he had become reunited with his daughters in the last book. Now he finds himself on his way to Scotland because one Katherine Mackinnon is challenging his ownership of his Scottish lands.

Then, the events described above occur and the duke becomes the bodyguard, protector, and helper of the beautiful young chief. The attraction is mutual and immediate, but Kitt is committed to marrying for the benefit of the clan. There are numerous adventures, Alex (as the duke is known in his amnesiac state) is wounded, and while he is out of his head with fever, it becomes clear that he is the hated duke. And Kitt, knowing this, puts the plan into action when he regains his health but not his memory. But she can't reconcile the man she has come to love with the evil, oppressive duke.

There are also villains about, villains who have sought to murder the duke and who are plotting to seize his Scottish estate.

What went wrong with The Bodyguard? Personally, I didn't feel that Alex/Alastair's gradual regaining of his memory was handled well. The dramatic potentials here were simply undeveloped. And, then, the love story declined into a "big misunderstanding" plot device. Now, granted the reasons for the "big misunderstanding" were probably more telling than is often the case, but still, it didn't work for me.

Perhaps the key problem is that the last part of the book seemed hurried and incomplete. Or perhaps, there were too many ends to tie up. All I know is that, after drawing me into her story, Johnston did not maintain my interest. Thus, I must conclude that The Bodyguard is an acceptable romance, but lacks that certain something that would lead me to recommend it. An uneven book, when all is said and done.

--Jean Mason

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