The Mad Marquis

 
The Kissing Gate by Fiona Carr
(Leisure, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-5289-X
***
There is a part of me that really enjoyed parts of this story. And there is a part of me that cringed and struggled through parts of this story. There is even a small part of me who hated parts of this story. And ultimately, there is me, who finds herself having to rate this story which creates so many emotions, only some of which are good.

First the story: Lionel Westfall, Earl of Wraxham, is a widower with 6 sons ranging from 6 to 18. He and his wife were basically estranged except for the times when they mated and made children. She died and he is left with three at school and three at home. The children at home include a set of twins who are 10 and a six year old that has nightmares at night. He just lost another tutor due to their mischievous natures and decides to hire his old friend Sophie Bowerbank, the preacher’s daughter.

Sophie is a spinster. At the tender age of 16, she fell in love with a slightly older boy and vowed to love him her whole life. When their parents split them up and sent the boy off to the army, she could not in good conscience agree to marry another because that would be dishonest. That boy was Lionel. Now Lionel is back. They both still have deep feelings but each have their reasons for keeping them hidden. But lust is a powerful force and soon they are fighting the attraction. Meanwhile, Sophie is falling in love with the boys and with Lionel all over again.

The mystery of the story comes in when things start happening that are blamed on the boys. First the magistrate’s gardens get destroyed by goats…someone had to let the goats out. Second, a butcher’s shop gets broken into and dogs eat the meat…dogs the boys were playing with. Each malicious act of vandalism leads to the boys, who adamantly deny any wrongdoing. There is no evidence proving things one way or the other…just lots of circumstantial evidence.

The enjoyment: Sophie is a smart teacher and loves the chance to work with the children. She is good for them, as their mother rarely showed them any affection. She is particularly good for Simon, the youngest who has these nightmares. She is also good for Lionel, as she gives his self-esteem a much-needed boost regarding his abilities as a father. Their bantering and relationship is generally one of friendship and the efforts at keeping their respective lusts at bay are generally fun and good romance. Their eventual realization that they do love each other and should be together is enjoyable and I was glad to see them together. I did like them as characters. The children are well written characters and clearly looking for love and attention. But they are not caricatures nor overly syrupy, which often happens in stories.

The frustration: Sophie is a virgin and an old maid. Yet she has discovered erotic literature that she can’t seem to keep her hands off of and she is making herself sexually frustrated just by reading this stuff. Now she decides to let Lionel show her the truth behind the books. While I enjoy good erotic scenes in my romances, this took it way too far. Each chapter opened with some pearl of wisdom from 17th and 18th century erotic literature. For a supposedly intelligent woman, her almost obsession with this stuff just didn’t ring true for the times, especially given she was a preacher’s daughter.

Another bit of frustration was the lack of intelligent inquiry into solving the mystery. I had the culprits figured out after just the second incident. The story seems to drag at times because there is no action and no one seems to know what to do next. When this happens, the erotica keeps coming into play to prolong the tale. The secondary characters who are involved in this are stereotypical and add to this sense that Lionel and Sophie are not as smart as they should be if they can’t see through these people.

The hated part: Simon, the little boy, is shown as having some kind of extreme fits at night, truly almost beyond nightmares and these are never really explained. The horrible treatments that are advised by the physicians are true for the times but are used to garner sympathy and to set up a disagreement between Lionel and Sophie. Sophie, holding true to her character, wants to apply more humane techniques. The problem I have with all this is that there is never an explanation as to why these are occurring and thus it makes it seem all the more exploitive of this child and our emotions. I find that hard to take from any author.

So there you have it. While generally engaging and fun, there are things in the story that will distract the reader from the heart of the tale. The Kissing Gate has the potential for much but in the end is just another romantic tale.

--Shirley Lyons


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