The Devil in Disguise

The Sinner Who Seduced Me
by Stefanie Sloane
(Ballantine, $7.99, PG) ISBN 978-0345-51741-8
I was so excited to see Sloane’s book in my pile of books to review. I had greatly enjoyed The Devil in Disguise, her debut novel and had even commented that I looked forward to more of her stories. However, The Sinner Who Seduced Me was a disappointment. I struggled through this tale, often wishing it were over.

In a convoluted tale of spies and counter spies and the back drop of the Young Corinthians, James Marlowe pursues his mission. He is a spy for England who has infiltrated a group known as Les Moines, who have a plot to get money for Napoleon. They have agreed to assist a Canadian merchant who has hopes of getting in with the ton and in exchange, he will finance their efforts.

Of course, Joshua Bennett thinks he is paying for a portrait of his daughter Iris; a portrait that will make her the envy of the ton and of course, the newest darling heiress. The artist is a Frenchman named St. Michele. When the actual painter is injured, his student is blackmailed into masquerading as him and painting the portrait. The twist is that the student is a woman. Another twist is that James is assigned the duty of escorting the artist and the student is his former almost fiancée Clarissa Collins.

Three years previous to the story, Clarissa and James were courting. James was new to the Corinthians and Lord Collins was his tutor and mentor. When Lord Collins had to act as if he was having an affair to complete his mission, James came to his defense to his wife and daughter. Clarissa resented that James took her father’s side and broke off their engagement, running off to France with her mother. There, she studied painting with the master St. Michele.

James and Clarissa still love each other although neither wants to admit it. James must keep his true purpose secret. His real mission is to act like he is working for Les Moines while securing the money for England. Clarissa is forced to pose as a man, yes, in disguise, in order to accomplish the goal of saving her mother who is being held hostage. .

Despite the convoluted story and background, the tale starts off with some flair. But it quickly settles into a lot of confusion and misadventure. I was often bored and struggled picking up the book. Clarissa was posing as a man, but other than dressing the part and cutting her hair, she did not change her mannerisms or demeanor. There was no effort to make her deception anything but simple and easy. James played the role of her “aide” yet he acted like the Lord he was and no one questioned his audacity or lack of work. The premise never worked, which made the suspense and villains even more unbelievable than they were. I just could not respect a spy who could not even tell a man from a woman, when the woman did nothing to hide her femininity.

I think in another story James could have been a stronger hero. His love for Clarissa just never developed. After all, their hanging out in her room where they ended up making love, just felt forced and not at all like a couple who were uncertain of their feelings. The ridiculous adventures that they undertook were all a result of trying to placate the heiress’ need for exploits before she settled into her role of wife and mother. The only good thing was the villain and his whole motivation was to take over the role of head bad guy from his father. It was ultimately another weak plot line.

The Sinner Who Seduced Me was often slow and unimaginative in a plot that just seemed more improbable as it went along. I sincerely hope Stefanie Sloane can rebound back with something more entertaining.

--Shirley Lyons

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