For Love Alone

A Heart for the Taking

Love Be Mine

Lovers Forever

At Long Last by Shirlee Busbee
(Warner, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-446-60807-6

Oh I'm sorry. That was just me jabbing myself with a needle in order to stay awake long enough to finish this torturously dull book. Now that I've rejoined the living somewhat (perhaps another jab or two wouldn't be amiss), let me give you a quick recap of the story's simple yet odiously drawn-out plot:

Arabella Montgomery, born in England but reared and living in pre-Civil War Mississippi, was once engaged to the dashing rogue Tony Daggett, a wealthy Mississippi-born man who also holds an English title and fortune. Tony, a life-long rake used to getting what he wants when he wants it, broke Arabella's heart by allegedly sleeping with his former mistress while they were betrothed. Incensed at his perceived betrayal, Bella calls off the wedding, vows to never again lay eyes on one Tony Daggett, and Tony returns to England with a broken heart of his own.

Flash forward five years: Arabella's younger brother Jeremy has lost everything - their home, his inherited fortune, everything - to a slimy, unscrupulous gamester who thinks nothing of fleecing people. Determined to get back Jeremy's vowels, Bella sets off to speak with the card shark herself only to discover that said shark has already lost the vowels to a superior gamester. Any conjectures as to who that all-powerful studmeister of a card player might be? You guessed it: Tony Daggett.

Tony hasn't forgotten about Bella and the passion they once shared and is therefore determined to have her in his bed again. Conversely, Bella hasn't forgotten about the magic Tony once performed on her body, so when he proposes to give back Jeremy's vowels in exchange for her services in the boudoir as his mistress, of course she will quickly agree.

Passion soon evolves into love, leaving Bella decidedly uncertain as to what she should do. Is it possible Tony hadn't cheated on her all those years back? Is it plausible that someone might have deliberately set out to drive a wedge between them and end their betrothal five years ago? Does someone hate Tony adamantly enough that they would go to any length, including murder, lies, and betrayal, to keep him from finding happiness?

Good lord but I was so bored that I simply didn't care. At Long Last touts a sexy hero, a feisty, independent heroine, detailed love scenes, and some enjoyable prose...and yet the book as a whole is dry enough to ignite a forest fire off of if held under a magnifying glass in direct sunlight for more than a second or two.

The logical question to ask, of course, is why? When the novel contains dynamic characters, an attention-getting (though clichéd) premise, and unambiguous love scenes, why is it so incredibly boring? The answer is simple: daunting narrative mixed with redundant dialogue.

There is narrative and then - oh lord - there is narrative. At Long Last definitely qualifies for the latter category. Pages and pages and pages (and pages) of uneventful narrative with nary a word of character dialogue in between to break up the monotony is a hallmark of this novel. The protagonists engage in far too much thinking and not nearly enough conversation. Worse yet, their thinking is painstakingly detailed, teeth-grittingly redundant, and slow in coming.

The dialogue that does exist is usually no more than a recap of whatever subject matter was brought up in the prior narrative. If Tony is describing, for instance, why the sky is blue in the narrative (for three or four pages!), then immediately following that commentary comes a scene where he recaps his thoughts on blue skies to Bella (for another three or four pages!) As if that isn't grim enough, Tony usually proceeds to recap the same exact feelings concerning the blue skies for at least one more secondary character and often times two (at three to four pages a piece!)

Can we say, DULL?

At Long Last as a whole reminds me of an overly analytical friend I have who never seems to get anything accomplished because she's forever contemplating the same old tired options in her mind...and forcing her friends to listen to the same old worries about those options over and over and over again. Even the love scenes in this novel, detailed though they might be, fail to inspire. If the book as a whole brings to mind my overly analytical friend, the love scenes are too reminiscent of a public accountant I once dated. I'll leave you to conjecture as to why.

I wish I could recommend this book, but I simply can't. Yes, the characterizations are solid, yes the protagonists are likable (or at least they started out that way before engaging in all that redundant thinking and dialogue), and yes, the premise started out with a great deal of potential, but in the end and throughout most of the read the novel simply fails to live up to its initial promise. At Long Last is decidedly well-named because by the time you finish this book you never thought you'd get there.

--Tina Engler

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