The Rescue by Suzanne Robinson
(Bantam, $ 5.99, G) ISBN 0-553-56347-5
The Rescue, by the divinely gifted Suzanne Robinson, is the author's tenth romance novel in less than ten years. Add to that her career as a mystery novelist under the name Lynda Robinson, and you have a very busy writer.

So busy, that I cannot help but wonder if her rigorous schedule is seriously detrimental to her talent. Because unfortunately, The Rescue is a disappointingly skimpy effort, which reads far more like a detailed synopsis than an actual full length novel.

Like her earlier book, Lady Dangerous, The Rescue takes place in Victorian England. The hero is the dark and sinfully beautiful Sir Lucas Hawthorne, who in a previous life was a menacing underworld figure known as Nightshade. By dint of his creative labors, he has raised himself to wealth and respectability, and now desires a rich, well-born wife as a perk to his newfound success.

Primrose Victoria Dane is certainly well-born, but not rich; indeed she is a penniless spinster dependent on wealthy relatives. When Prim witnesses a murder in a dark alleyway, the genteel spinster is forced to go on the run, hiding in London's horrific slums. Fortunately, Primrose is not the sort of tender blossom to inopportunely wilt when the heat is on, but rises to the occasion.

As a favor to a friend, Luke returns to his old stomping grounds in East London to search out the lost lady. As Prim is constantly hunted by lackeys of the killer, she believes Luke to be one of their ilk. When he captures her, he has the devil of a time persuading her that he is not dragging her off to her doom, but is in fact, conducting a rescue. If only she would cooperate.

To further protect her, Luke spirits her off to his very own castle, very much against her will. She eventually believes he means to aid her, but even then will not cooperate with Luke for fear she could endanger him. For despite herself, Prim is attracted to the ominous Nightshade/Sir Lucas; and Luke is ever more drawn to the prim and proper spinster. To tell much more of what happens at Luke's castle would be to spill the beans on The Rescue's entirety. For unfortunately, not much else happens of great interest.

Those who know me, know that I adore Suzanne Robinson's Lady Gallant, and that I can rhapsodize ad nauseum about that wonderful novel's many virtues: its eloquent prose, unforgettable characters, historical realism and artful plot structure. For me, that novel offered the hope of a great new author, a dazzling talent somewhere on the romance continuum between Laura Kinsale and Sharon and Tom Curtis. For many years I bought every subsequent Robinson title, though each disappointed me a little bit more. Even with some of the better ones, such as Lord of the Dragon, they did not seem written by the same virtuoso who penned the likes of Lady Gallant.

The Rescue continues Robinson's trend away from the sort of complex and powerful storytelling which wowed me so with Lady Gallant. Instead, The Rescue presents the sort of story I call "the whimsical predicament," the well-explored territory of such excellent authors as Julie Garwood, Teresa Medeiros, Jill Barnett and Stella Cameron. Undoubtedly, this is fine territory to be in, from a marketing standpoint; but alas, I cannot help but grieve to see such a fresh and original voice in historical romance conform to the dictates of the market.

Certainly, The Rescue is not the worst book I have ever read, for it does have its amusing moments. But it suffers mightily in that it lacks sufficient character development, conflict, and romantic tension, and the writing reads like an early draft. Even the big love scene, which can relieve the boredom of even a tedious romance novel, is the weakest I have read in ages. The Rescue, like many a novel written for contractual obligation, just sort of bubbles along until it stops, with only cursory acknowledgment of the traditional elements of dramatic structure. Ultimately, it strikes me to be an inoffensive, but forgettable piece of fiction.

Surely, if someone with the superb talents of Suzanne Robinson had more time to develop this manuscript, it would have been infinitely better. But the ugly world of commerce interferes, much to the annoyance of idealistic fools like myself who prefer to think of the romance novel as an art, rather than a business. Until publishers stop strapping their brightest authors to the unholy contractual treadmill, squeezing the life from them the way Egyptian pharaohs did the Hebrew slaves, we are destined to have more such half-finished manuscripts packaged as novels. With a $5.99 cover price.

Until then, I will be re-reading Lady Gallant.

-- Meredith Moore

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