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Pale Moon Rider by Marsha Canham
(Dell, $ 6.50, R) ISBN 0-440-22259-1
****
Shades of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and "Zorro," Pale Moon Rider is set in familiar historical romance territory. What keeps this tale interesting is the pace and the well-drawn characters: the bad guys are really loathsome and the hero and heroine are not exactly what you'd expect.

Born a poor commoner, Tyrone Hart was raised as the friend/brother to a son of privilege. When the son died, Tyrone was forced to make his own way in a very rough world. Because he loves the excitement, Tyrone chooses to become a silly, ineffectual gentleman by day and a notorious highwayman by night.

Tyrone's very successful at being a highway man and robbing from the rich – too successful. Dubbed Captain Starlight, Tyrone's a bane to local authorities. In particular, he's the nemesis of the devious and cold-blooded Colonel Roth. And, he's stolen a piece of jewelry that Colonel Roth would kill to possess.

Renee d'Anton lost her father and her lover to the guillotine. And she and her younger brother were forced to watch their aristocratic mother die a brutal death at the hands of a merciless French mob. Her brother hasn't uttered a word since the horrible night of their mother's death.

In seeking refuge with her English uncle, Renee has traded one set of problems for another. In England she finds herself despised by the English, and her uncle coerces her into an engagement with a man who works with Colonel Roth. Now, the evil Colonel Roth is forcing Renee into helping him apprehend the infamous highwayman, Captain Starlight.

If she doesn't help Roth, Renee's little brother will be accused of attempting to kill their uncle. However, when Renee meets Captain Starlight, she realizes she can't have his death on her conscience. Renee begins to think there maybe a way to double-cross Roth and pocket enough jewels from her unwanted fiancé to finance a new life for her and her brother in New Orleans.

But in order to succeed she's going to need the help, and the trust, of a very, wary highwayman.

First, I want to thank the author for not stooping to the old ploy of having the heroine fail to recognize the hero when he dons his alter ego. I could never figure out how Lois always failed to identify Superman as Clark Kent, and I've never been able to give credibility to romances where the heroine makes love to the hero in one scene and in the next fails to recognize him because he's wearing a mask or effects a different persona.

Even though the premise of Pale Moon Rider is nothing new, the characters were unique enough to hold my interest. And what makes Renee and Tyrone interesting is that they each have their baggage. Renee has lost her family and she's had a lover – she's not your usual, virginal heroine.

Tyrone's life also includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. Unlike the usual romance hero, he doesn't immediately rush to help the damsel in distress. In fact, he plans to take Renee's jewels, leave her with nothing and/or kill her if she betrays him.

Because they don't fit the norm, you can't count on either Renee or Tyrone to do what normal romance heroines and heroes do in given situations – and that's why I liked this book. A little bit of the unexpected can be a very good thing.

--Judith Flavell


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