Dangerous Passions

The Dream

Innocence Undone

Night Secrets
Nothing But Velvet

Silk & Steel

Perfect Sin by Kat Martin
(St. Martin's, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-312-97564-3
When I found two historical boo-boos in the first few pages of Perfect Sin, I got a little nervous. I have often found that when an author doesn’t get the little things right, she doesn’t get the big things right either. Like providing a plot and characters who don’t strain credulity too much. My fears were not unfounded. Perhaps I could have accepted a story that centers on an American scholar’s quest for Cleopatra’s Necklace on an island off Africa had it not been set in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars. But I doubt very much that in 1805, a number of British aristocrats would blithely hie themselves off to said island, however attractive the prize.

Our story begins with the hero, Randall Elliott Clayton, seventh Duke of Beldon, spying a most unusual woman at a London ball. Caitlin Harmon is an American, the daughter of Donovan Harmon, who has come to London to raise funds for an expedition to find the necklace. Red-haired Caitlin, having spent much of her life following her father on his archeological expeditions, is not like proper English girls. She is lively and unaffected as well as beautiful and Rand is immediately smitten.

When Rand discovers that her father’s chief supporter is Lord Talmadge, he becomes even more intrigued. The duke blames Talmadge for the swindle that led his young cousin to take his own life. So Rand pursues his acquaintance with Caitlin. If his motives are mixed, his attraction is real. For her part, Caitlin is much taken by the handsome duke. She knows there can be no future for a duke and an American, but since she is not planning to marry - her father needs her - she concludes that she just might taste the joys of love with the one man whose kisses can make her tremble.

There is really no way to provide a simple synopsis of the plot of Perfect Sin. It has more than its share of twists and turns. And for this reader at least, it is improbable. The behavior of the characters seems highly anachronistic. Would Rand - whom we are repeatedly told is a kind and sensitive fellow - set out to seduce a young woman staying in one of his friend’s home? Would Caitlin so readily give up her virginity? (Why do authors so frequently suggest that American women were so much more free and easy than their English counterparts?) Would an American come to London to find funds to finance his expedition? Would three proper women enter Jackson’s Boxing Salon? Would Rand be able to get money from a bank in Dakar fifty years before the city was founded?

Sometimes I can overlook an improbable plot and anachronistic characters if the romance is good, if I find the hero and heroine intriguing. I have to say that such was not the case with Perfect Sin. I give Martin credit; she ignores some of the conventions of the romance genre. But her characters seem more like clichés than real people and the romance one of those “instant attraction” scenarios that sometimes don’t work for me. Caitlin keeps remarking that a duke and an American have nothing in common and, as far as I can see, she’s right. Except for the sexual thing, the author provides little in the way of a developing relationship.

I have enjoyed a number of Kat Martin’s previous books, but I’m afraid Perfect Sin seems far from perfect.

--Jean Mason

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