The Rejected Suitor
by Teresa McCarthy
(Signet, $4.99,G) ISBN 0-451-21180-4
*
The suitor wasn’t the only thing about this book that should have been rejected. Is it possible that the awkward writing, bad grammar and misused words were deliberately left in to distract from the fact that the heroine is a brainless twit?

Lady Emily Clearbrook is appalled to find that her four older brothers plan to choose her husband. Not because her brothers are corkbrained stooges (although they are). No, if she chooses to marry at all she is determined to select her own husband, someone who will allow her to keep her independence.

Naturally, like so many young ladies of the Regency, Emily is particularly attached to her freedom because she spent the war as one of Whitehall’s top spies, known as the Silver Fox. Exactly what her duties or qualifications were is manifestly unclear, but we do know she was shot protecting another spy, known to her only as the Black Wolf.

Making marriage even less palatable, “one man had destroyed her girlhood dreams.”

The man who broke her heart was Jared Ashton, who offered for her and was summarily refused by Emily’s father, the Duke of Elbourne. Many years earlier, Emily’s father loved Jared’s mother but was sent away because their fathers were feuding about the outcome of a card game. Apparently still bitter, Emily’s father rejected Jared’s suit, even though “at the time of Jared’s proposal, the duke’s motive for revenge bordered on the ridiculous.” (Bordered?)

Not content with simply rejecting Jared’s suit, the duke made it appear that Jared had compromised another young lady and Jared was forced to marry her. His unfortunate bride died short weeks after giving birth to their daughter and Jared is keeping the child a secret (mostly so it can eventually be a source of contrived conflict with Emily).

Unaware of their convoluted history, the brothers assign Jared to keep an eye on Emily, asking him to fend off the fortune hunters until they can choose a future brother-in-law who is as little like them as possible (by which they mean he can’t be a drinking, gambling womanizer).

As a character, Emily is infuriating. She can’t see what’s in front of her nose, doesn’t listen to what she’s told, and never makes a sensible remark at an appropriate moment. In other words, she’s as dense as a bolt of muslin, and, for a spy, she doesn’t have an ounce of subtlety (“The very idea made her giggle and spurt out some of the water [she was drinking] onto the floor.”) I’m guessing the boys at Whitehall laughed until they cried over her spy reports.

By the way, is there now something in the Signet guidelines about making as many characters as possible into secret agents, no matter how ludicrous? Just asking.

Jared is a cardboard cutout who postures and simmers and glares (“Jared’s brows slammed together in annoyance”) and their conflict is predicated on an obstinate refusal to communicate with each other. Emily’s tendency to wail ‘he never really loved me’ at intervals, as though discovering it for the first time, did not increase my opinion of her intelligence.

Adding to the general annoyance, Ms. McCarthy (and her editors) should be charged with abuse of the English language. Certainly the author needs to be better acquainted with her dictionary: hence, incredulous, deem, contingency, maddening and tooling (as it applies to driving a carriage) are among the incorrectly used words.

There is awful grammar (“bestow your sister with the information,” “you can do better then her”), an unfortunate tendency towards silly redundancies (“deceitful lies,” “returned back”) and some constructions that are just plain ridiculous (“followed beside,” and “no doubt she’s probably” are two of my favorites). Don’t get me started on relative pronouns.

Ms. McCarthy occasionally manages to combine several of these linguistic disasters into one ignominious clunker: “Agatha gathered a croissant off the platter in front of her and lapped on some butter.” The picture of an elderly lady licking the butter is, to my mind, much funnier – if not intentionally so – than Emily spitting water on the floor.

Frankly, this book is an embarrassment to everyone concerned.

-- Judi McKee


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