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The Theft by Andrea Kane
(Pocket Star, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-01887-6
**
About 35 pages into The Theft, I truly began to wonder if author Andrea Kane was being paid by the word. Rarely have I read a book that uses so much verbiage to accomplish so little plot action. As Eliza Doolittle put it "Don't talk of love, show me!"

The Theft brings together the progeny of characters from two of the author's previous titles Yuletide Treasure and The Last Duke, and there is tons of back story that may be of interest to fans of these books, but was not terribly compelling for a new reader.

Lady Noelle Bromleigh is the much-loved adopted daughter of Eric Bromleigh, the seventh Earl of Farrington. The fruit of an ill-fated romance between Eric's now-deceased sister and a mysterious Italian named Franco Baricci, Noelle is desperate to learn the secrets of her past and meet the man who so cruelly seduced and abandoned her mother. She discovers that her erstwhile father owns a prestigious art gallery and, without the knowledge of her adopted family, she hatches a plan to go to London to see the blackguard in person.

While on the train, she just happens to run into Ashford Thornton, the earl of Tremlett. In his job as an insurance investigator surely the very first insurance agent hero in the annals of historical romance. Ashford is investigating the disappearance of valuable artworks. And in a happy coincidence (I have a big problem with book plots that turn on coincidences...), he too is on his way to the Baricci gallery.

Before I go any further, let me make one disclaimer I have absolutely nothing against people who work in the insurance industry. In fact, my insurance guy is a terrific person and very good-looking. But for some reason, I had a really hard time connecting with the hero who, despite his wealth and title, chooses to work as an insurance investigator. The book is set in the 1860s, for goodness sakes. While I certainly don't begrudge the guy an honest day's work, surely an earl could find a more glamorous occupation.

But I digress. Which is exactly what the author does all too often. When a single sentence would do, Ms. Kane give us an entire paragraph, as the characters drone on endlessly about anything and everything, until the utterly predictable plot is simply buried under the weight of all the inanities. The Theft weighs in at 400 pages, but with some decent editing, this tepid love story could have been told much better using only a fraction of the ink.

The book also suffers from a lack of romantic tension. It's almost as if the author loves these characters so much herself, she can hardly figure out a reason why they wouldn't love each other. To drum up some semblance of conflict, she inserts a silly plot device in which the hero believes the insipid Noelle is in league with her evil father in the art theft ring. But it's very half-hearted and not terribly convincing and, sure enough, Noelle and Ashford are cooing happily in each other's arms far too many pages before the end of the book, leaving the reader to muddle through the remainder which consists primarily of a lame story pitting Ashford (who, by the way, moonlights as a Robin Hood-type bandit) against the evil Baricci.

To be fair, there's nothing really hateful or offensive about this book, it's just very bland and thoroughly unremarkable, with no compelling characters or story line to hold the reader's attention beyond the first few chapters.

--Leslie McClain


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