What An Earl Wants

Confessions of A Viscount
by Shirley Karr
(Avon, $ 5.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-083412-9
Shirley Karr has written a generally refreshing story about a female spy (hmm, these are becoming more prevalent) and a scholarly man who is more interested in the stars than in anything else in his life.

The Viscount is Alistair Moncreiffe, who is due to inherit from his grandfather, who is a Duke. Alastairís father is still alive but is a bit of a hedonist, the complete opposite of the proper and distinguished Duke. Alistair has found astronomy to be very stimulating and relaxing and is a proud member of the scientific community. Due to pressures from his relatives, however, he must do his duty and attend balls and soirees to allow the young misses to swoon over him and attempt to connive their way into a betrothal from him. So far he has avoided the manipulating mamas and enjoys his single status.

Enter Charlotte Parnell, a young miss who has spent three years in France as an accomplice of her brother Steven in pursuit of spying for the English government. Now the war is over, Steven has returned her to England and expects that she will act the debutante and pick a husband. But Charlotte has dreams of remaining in the spy business and working on her own for the secretive Lord Q. She is currently assisting on a case, although Steven believes her to be acting only as a sounding board. Someone has stolen a snuffbox of great value from the Prince Regent. A known courtesan, a man of disreputable means and a nemesis from France are all over the same box. Charlotte inadvertently involves Alistair in one of her escapes while out and about and their worlds are enmeshed.

Alistair is intrigued by Charlotte because she is so unlike any of the other girls looking for a husband. In fact, she acts as if she does not see his handsome face, large pocketbook and hefty title. Charlotte is intrigued because Alistair likes the stars and yet is manly and virile and exceedingly handsome. He is also sticking to her like a fly in a trap. They even agree to fake an engagement to get Alistairís father and grandfather off his case and to give Charlotte the cover she needs to continue to search for the snuffbox. Naturally complications arise in all aspects of their plan, particularly when they realize the heat between them and discover itís ready to ignite at any time.

The mystery is well done and helps move the tale along. The downfall is the length of time and continued stubbornness of Charlotte in continuing to deny her attraction and the outcome of their romance. While Alistair catches on early and begins to plot to convince her to actually marry him, Charlotte acts the self-centered nabob and canít see why she is hurting him with her actions. She finally gets it, but I had lost my patience with her long before she did.

Steven and his compatriots are strong secondary characters and it might be interesting to see them in their own stories. As background in this one, they bring to light many issues and life seems enervating when they are in the scenes. There are other side stories that are not well developed such as the real story about the Duke and his son. Their estrangement is clear, but the reasons much less so.

Karr comes close to writing a complete story, but there are just enough bits and pieces that are disconcerting that I find myself unable to give Confessions of a Viscount my full recommendation. But it is a good story all the same.

--Shirley Lyons

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