Affair

I Thee Wed

Mischief

Mystique

With This Ring

As Jayne Ann Krentz:

Absolutely, Positively

Deep Waters

Eye of the Beholder

Flash

Sharp Edges

Soft Focus

As Jayne Castle

Amaryllis

Charmed

Orchid

Zinnia

 
Wicked Widow by Amanda Quick
(Bantam, $23.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-10087-4
****
Wicked Widow is set in Amanda Quick's favorite milieu, her own quirky, very original Regency England. This is a Regency England that never was, inhabited mostly by attractively idiosyncratic aristocrats and determined women. In other words, when we pick up an Amanda Quick book we have left the realm of realism and entered into fairy-tales-for-adults territory.

Artemis Hunt is the untitled but definitely idiosyncratic aristocrat of Wicked Widow. A secretive type, he has kept both his status as a Vanza master and as the proprietor of the Dream Pavilions (think 19th century Vauxhall as executed by Disney) concealed from society. From a nearly penniless beginning, he traveled to Vanzagaria (do not consult a map) to study the Vanza philosophy and then returned to London to make his fortune.

At present Artemis' only goal in life is to avenge the death of his lover who was kidnapped and debauched by three aristocratic rakes. Artemis has put into motion an elaborate plan not only to kill them but also to first ruin them financially and socially.

No sooner is his plan underway than he is diverted by a demand from Madeline Deveridge, the Wicked Widow, that he rescue her maid. Nellie has been kidnapped just outside the gate of the Dream Pavilions and Madeline blackmails Artemis into helping her by suggesting that she will disclose his ownership of the Gardens. Rescue Nellie he does, but once Nellie is safe, Artemis needs to discover what Madeline knows and if she also knows of his plans for revenge.

Madeline acquired the Wicked Widow sobriquet when a housebreaker killed her husband two months after they were married. At the time, Madeline's father -- also a Vanza master -- was inquiring to find out if the marriage could be annulled, and gossip in the clubs has it that Madeline decided that dispatching her husband herself was more efficient.

Madeline is worried that Renwick Deveridge did not die from a bullet or from the fire that followed the shooting. Before he died, Renwick threatened to kill her whole family. Madeline worries that either Renwick has come back from the dead to fulfill his threat or that he did not die from the attack. Because her husband was a Vanza expert, Madeline decides that Artemis is the most likely candidate to prove Renwick dead.

On such an insubstantial foundation the Wicked Widow is built. The real meat of the story consists of the personalities of the principals and the growth of the attraction between Artemis and Madeline. Here we have a pair of lovers who lose their tempers regularly without derailing the growing attraction between them.

As Artemis points out, Madeline has an annoying tendency to make her point many, many irritating times. Artemis, on the other hand, is high-handed and dictatorial. The fireworks that ensue are a welcome change from the recent trend I've noticed toward unrealistically patient lovers.

In addition to a pair of lovers who fight convincingly, Wicked Widow avoids a frequent -- and frequently tiresome -- plot element. Nothing hinges on a Big Misunderstanding. Whenever an issue arises that has potential for misunderstanding, one of the two cuts right through to the heart of the matter and brings the issue out into the open. (Of course, in Madeline's case she brings her issues out into the open more than once.) So Madeline and Artemis quarrel, resolve their quarrel, and move on in a very satisfactory manner.

I found Wicked Widow charming escapist literature. Will I read it again (my criteria for a five-heart review)? Probably. Do I rate Wicked Widow five hearts? No. I did find Quick's invention of an entire philosophy and particularly her fabrication of what would have been a London landmark had it existed, unnecessary and irritating. I wondered why Artemis couldn't have been shown making his fortune in some way that wouldn't intrude on the real 19th century landscape. If, however, you can leap these two hurdles, the remainder of Wicked Widow should delight you.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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