The Lady's Tutor

The Lover by Robin Schone
(Kensington, $12.00, NC-17) ISBN 1-57566-570-0
If you have the time and the inclination to read The Lover at least twice, then you'll be impressed with this wonderfully complex book. During my second reading I marveled at how Robin Schone deals with betrayal, loss of innocence and sexual hunger, all in a astute, adult, intricate manner. However, during my first reading I was frequently befuddled and often had no idea what was happening. The technique of foreshadowing is used for most of the book, and nothing is truly clear until the ending. By that time I was really too perplexed to care and sensed a confusion, a disjointedness, a lack of plot support that a story normally provides.

The Lover is set in the nineteenth century, primarily in London. However, if you're buying The Lover for its historical ambiance and not for its red-hot sexuality, then you're either kidding yourself or you believe that Elvis is Alive and Well in Roswell, New Mexico, just waiting for ET to beam him up. Do be careful loaning it to your granny if she asks for a book about nineteenth century London.

The Lover is a psychological thriller that's bordered with myriad episodes of explicit sex. Because so much of the plot is explained at the end, there's very little plot information that I can reveal. Anne Aimes, a thirty-six-year-old spinster who buried her parents ten months ago, spent most of her adult life caring for them. Now a wealthy woman, she's rebelling at society's strictures and for one month will pay ten thousand pounds for the services of a male prostitute, ridding herself of her virginity. She has chosen Michel des Anges, who outwardly is an odd choice.

Michel or Michael, as he is sometimes referred, based on a pattern that I never figured out, was badly scarred in a fire five years ago. Until that time he was one of the top male prostitutes, honing his skills as a sexual virtuoso and is a wealthy man. Since the fire, his situation has reversed. Now he's one who has to pay for sex. He's surprised that Anne has chosen him, but he doesn't know that she remembers him from her London debut eighteen years before. There's evil in his past, evil which is going to reappear and will try to kill both Michel and Anne.

Robin Schone has again proved that she will accept no boundaries when detailing sexual scenarios. Very little is taboo, yet Schone has such an elegant writing style that nothing seems tawdry, just very adult-oriented. In spite of her flair with sensual descriptions, frequently I had trouble appreciating the erotic moments. While the heroine was thinking about torrid sex, Michel was thinking of death, fire, murder, vengeance. That shifting of perspectives diluted the sexual tension. It's a bit like your partner wanting to make love when you've got a bad cold. You may be thinking, ‘Get real' but you reply, "As good as it sounds, honey, I'm just not in the mood." The enigma, the grey coldness surrounding Michel diminished my admiration of and interest in the erotic moments. His frequent forebodings sometimes ruined my interest in the love scenes.

These passages are samples of the puzzling plot. Early on we find this cryptic passage:

It had come full circle.
She did not deserve this.
But neither had the ones before.

There are similar cryptic passages throughout the book.

For the time they had left she was his.
A whore's woman.
A killer's woman.

Or this, much later in the book.

Anne was strong as well as passionate. Intelligent. Familiar with death and suffering.
She might survive.
(By then I was muttering, "Survive WHAT? Tell me, dammit.")
If she did, she would need more confidence to see her through the aftermath.

There are too many enigmatic references, hints which are useless because we aren't yet aware of the danger that awaits these two. Michel/Michel knows and so does Robin Schone, but we're left in the dark. Plot hints along the way have been forgotten because there's no point of reference. This blindfolded helplessness adds up to a frustrating reading experience.

Calling this a romance will be questionable to some readers. These two characters need each other, but very little time is spent demonstrating that they like each other. Yes, they're sexually compatible and each is a balm to the other's tortured psyche, but true affection never appears. The relationship has been of such short duration that it's difficult to know how long the HEA will last.

I firmly believe that if Robin Schone ever writes a book with characters who have somewhat normal pasts, characters who are basically happy, then she'll blow everybody else out of the water. She's that talented. And when that book comes out, I'll gladly pay $12.00 for it.

I do recommend that you read The Lover at least twice. On the second reading you'll see all the hints, know how the puzzle pieces fit together and how the undercurrents subtly direct you to the outcome. But if you're like me, on the first reading, you'll think that this book could have been subtitled "Clueless." I can only hope that I'm enough of an Everywoman that my reactions are characteristic of most readers. If not, then I'm the clueless one.

--Linda Mowery

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