The Dangerous Gentleman

The Devil's Love

Wicked Angel

The Ruthless Charmer
by Julia London
(Dell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-440-23562-6
As I sit before my computer screen preparing to type up a review, there are times when I feel compelled to rub my temples wearily (and sigh quite melodramatically) before the fingers hit the keypad. This would be one of those times. The Ruthless Charmer, sequel to The Dangerous Gentleman, and the latest installment of London's "Rogues of Regent Street" series, is well written and at times quite engaging, yet I cannot recommend it.

Why, you might ask? Because, quite simply, the heroine got on every nerve in my body and even discovered a few unchartered ones I hadn't realized I possessed. A more apropos title for The Ruthless Charmer would be “The Big Misunderstanding,” or “The Petulant Bride,” or more to the point still, “The Petulant Bride And The Big Misunderstanding”.

Starting to get the picture? If you purchase The Ruthless Charmer, expect to do a lot of melodramatic sighing and temple rubbing of your own, for this book is glutted with misunderstandings and miscommunications galore. Enter into that already dismal equation a heroine who should be wearing tights, a cape, and a big P for Petulant slashed across her chest, and your sighing and temple rubbing are soon accompanied by the sound of enamel striking enamel. Oh yeah. Big time teeth grinding here.

Lady Claudia Whitney has been in love with Julian Dane, the Earl of Kettering, since she was a young girl. Having been best friends with his sisters while growing up, Claudia used to dream of one day marrying him. That all changed when Julian broke her heart the first time at seventeen (big misunderstanding numero uno) and then again at twenty-three (big misunderstanding numero dos). Claudia has vowed never to let him break her heart again.

Two years later, resolved though she may be, it is hard for Claudia to get that rake Julian out of her mind. A glass of bubbly leaves her feeling giddy and breathless (not to mention likable) one night, and she finds herself caught in position by the ton's most notorious gossip. Claudia is then forced into a marriage she does not want, bound and shackled to the same rake who has smashed her heart to pieces twice before.

Julian Dane is in love with his wife, but he doesn't know how to get in her good graces. Try as he might, his every attempt at winning Claudia's heart is met with aloofness and sometimes bitter anger. Julian doesn't know what he has done to make her dislike him with the intensity she does, but he wishes circumstances were otherwise. He has been in love with Claudia for a long time, but he fears she will never learn to love him back. When will they be able to get along?

Unfortunately Jules, not until the second to the last paragraph of page 328. If Julian is in agony, at least he doesn't have to read about it. Twenty-five pages of bliss and three hundred twenty-eight pages of bleak does not a happy reader make. There are a couple of points in the book during which you are given false hope and led to believe that the protagonists' relationship is getting back on track, but both times that hope is quickly vanquished a scant few pages later.

Where Julian is everything you could want in a hero, Claudia is everything you dislike in a heroine. She is petulant, spoiled, and jumps to faulty conclusions about her husband with no evidence to support her beliefs. Does she ever ask him if he really thinks A when he should think B? Does she ever confront him with her suspicions about C and D? Of course not. She simply ignores him and hurts him in the doing, behaving like a witch with a capital B.

Even the fact that Claudia is a do-gooder who does her best to help everyone from abused wives to women employed in factories find a better way of life isn't enough to make me like her. Her unbending and relentlessly childish behavior toward her husband is too exasperating to overlook. If the hero's behavior had been even slightly incorrigible, it might have been easier to understand Claudia's petulance toward him. But it isn't and you don't.

Perhaps more irritating than anything else, however, is the fact that The Ruthless Charmer should have been a great book. London is a talented writer with an enviable knack for weaving a story together. Such ability is wasted on a heroine like Claudia and an inferior plot device such as the big understanding.

--Tina Engler

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