The Last Hellion

Miss Wonderful

Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20150-3
With wonderful story-telling, heady chemistry between the hero and heroine, and Ms. Chase’s delicious wit, this is a spectacularly good book. Read it as soon as you can get your hands on it, I beg you.

Rupert Carsington, fourth son of an earl, has been sent to Egypt by his father to “assist” the consul general. The consul believes that Hargate actually banished the incorrigible Rupert to Egypt so that someone else might have the nuisance and expense of keeping him out of trouble.

When Rupert is thrown in jail for defending a cripple against the soldier who is beating him in the street, the consul is horrified to find that it will cost over two thousand pounds in fines and bribes to extract the miscreant from the “rat-ridden hellhole” of Cairo’s prison. An unexpected solution arrives in the person of Miss Daphne Pembroke.

Daphne is in Egypt with her brother, Miles, to study that country’s mysterious and fascinating hieroglyphics. An accomplished linguist, Daphne married an elderly language scholar, mostly to gain access to his library. Unfortunately, “her brilliant scholar husband, exactly like stupider men, believed that intellectual endeavors put too great a strain on the inferior female brain.” It is only since his death that Daphne has been able to resume her study of Egyptian writing.

To give her research credibility, Miles poses as the academic genius, but Miles has disappeared and a distraught Daphne goes to the English consul general for help. The consul believes that Miles has likely indulged in too much hashish in a brothel, but he can’t tell Daphne that, of course, so he informs her that the only man who can find her brother is currently being held in an Egyptian prison. Daphne goes to the prison and ransoms Rupert, although, practical soul that she is, she bargains his jailors down to twenty pounds.

Rupert has been instructed by the consul simply to humor Daphne until her brother staggers home. In fact, Rupert finds that Miles has likely been kidnapped – by someone who believes he can interpret the hieroglyphs on a treasure map. Rupert assures Daphne that, while he may be stupid, he is also strong and wonderfully easy to manage, and she agrees that he is probably the right person to provide the brawn to her brains in the rescue of her brother.

It’s impossible to do justice to this story in a brief summary. I can’t synopsize the rich layers or the humor, which blooms from the context and our emerging understanding of the characters. The narrative unfolds with seductive swiftness, and the plot is tightly and skillfully constructed.

But it is Daphne and Rupert who make the story such a delight.

They are wonderful foils for each other – he the happy, unapologetic hedonist, she the serious, rather prim intellectual. The attraction between them is initially physical, but it is not the odious ‘lust think’ that turns physical attraction into a catalog of body parts. While Rupert is certainly fascinated by Daphne’s lush figure, he is equally turned on by her “enormous brain.” He also loves to rile her; unlike the men she’s known in the past, he delights in her displays of temper and loss of control.

Daphne is astonished and disturbed to discover how thoroughly Rupert’s exuberant physicality discomposes her. Then, gradually, she discovers that there is a great deal more to this “cheerful blockhead” than meets the eye. The connections of heart and mind quickly become as compelling as the magnetic sexual attraction.

In fact, an enormous part of this book’s charm is the humor and skill with which Ms. Chase reveals both these characters, a layer at a time, as they discover the truth about each other and themselves. Daphne blossoms under Rupert’s unabashed admiration, finding courage and passion under the earnest intellectualism. Scapegrace Rupert rises magnificently to the challenges of their quest, while managing to retain his irrepressible wit and sense of the absurd. The combination is entrancing.

It’s a marvelous book. Between Mr. Impossible and Jo Beverley’s recent A Most Unsuitable Man, I may be spoiled for run-of-the-mill romance forever. It’s so worth it.

-- Judi McKee

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