Nan Ryan can paint some quite vivid word pictures. Unfortunately, in this book she spends that ability on two extraordinarily irritating and unlikable characters.
Ellen Cornelius is a passive, 36-year-old doormat. After a brief, youthful marriage that resulted in a son, Ellen now lives with her Aunt Alexandra, catering meekly to the old ladyís autocratic whims so that her son will inherit the family wealth. Currently, with the teenager at military school in the States, Ellen is following Alexandra around the globe in search of a potion to make the obnoxious old woman young again.
In England, Alexandra sees an advertisement for Magic Waters. She sends Ellen for more information about this miracle elixir and Ellen returns with two dubious characters. Mister Corey is a cold, aloof man, dressed all in black, whose eyes are described throughout the book as ďlifeless.Ē Already Iím hoping this guy will turn out to be the evil twin. No such luck. His associate, Padjan, whoís a lot older and friendlier, claims to be an Anasazi. He and Mister Corey will take them to the Lost City where the Magic Waters of eternal youth flow. Ellen is pretty sure that these Magic Waters are a scam to part Aunt Alexandra from her fortune and, as we already know, she has other plans for the money.
Flat broke, in spite of having the secret to eternal youth, the Magic Water-mongers are only too pleased to have a ticket home, so everyone sails back to America. During the trip, tired of hearing Ellen accuse him of being a liar, thief, swindler, charlatan, and scum-of-the-earth white trash, Mister Corey amuses himself by continually taunting the thin, socially inept, patronizing, pathetic, spineless sycophant. Can you tell they didnít like each other?
Although heís not attracted to this washed out shrew, Mister Corey takes to mortifying Ellen in public by whispering crude suggestions into her ear. I didnít think this was so charming, myself, but the repressed Ellen must have liked it because soon sheís panting for his grim self.
Tired of bullying Ellen, however, Mister Corey has a completely gratuitous affair with some woman he picks up, and we are forced to endure a joyless and mechanical rendering of what they do in bed. I donít know why - I donít need yet another reason to dislike this oversexed mortician.
The other characters are all two dimensional plot devices - one actually doesnít speak a word in the entire book. There are some careless mistakes (the Native Americans of the wood-challenged high desert did not make totem poles, for example), but we wonít get into detail about that, or the overly complicated plot, because itís all just backdrop for these two tiresome characters.
Despite their mutual contempt, Mister Corey and Ellen are naturally red-hot for each other and the lust-hate thing goes on and on, culminating in some sex scenes (you canít call them love-making) that are explicit without managing to be either romantic or erotic. Which is often the result when thereís no emotional connection.
To justify their attraction, weíre offered the astounding revelation that Mister Corey appreciates Ellenís sarcastic wit and ability to deliver stinging verbal jabs. In our hearing, however, she restricts herself to such sophisticated banter as ďYou said it, I didnítĒ and ďBecause I said so!Ē As far as I could see, Mister Corey was having a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.
I wonít give away the ending. Suffice it to say that the clouds part, rainbows fill the sky, miracles abound and Ellen finally calls Mister Corey by his first name. Actually, the very last part of the book reminded me of Ronald Colman climbing the Himalayas to get to Shangri-La, or Dorothy entering Oz. Unfortunately this book spends way too much time in Kansas, and by the time we get to the highly unlikely but really quite entertaining Lost City of the Anasazi, itís too little, too late. Three hundred pages of sullen bickering followed by fifty pages of sweetness and light isnít a romance novel; itís a very long stick with a very small carrot on the end of it.