The Scoundrel by Claire Delacroix
(Warner Books, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-446-61111-5
****
Reading The Scoundrel was a pleasure, in part because Claire Delacroix has written her novel from the first person point-of-view. For some reason that I can’t explain, almost no romances use the first person, so this is quite a daring move on Ms. Delacroix’s part. Daring…and effective.

The first speaker is Gawain Lammergeier, a 14th century thief who specializes in stealing and reselling holy relics. As is common in crime novels, Gawain has just pulled off what he hopes will be his last big caper, the one which will buy him a palazzo in Sicily and allow him to shake off the dust of Scotland once and for all. He has stolen or, rather, restolen, the Titulus Croce, a relic that the Scottish lairds of Inverfyre believe brings prosperity to their holdings. Gawain and his father originally stole the Titulus Croce fifteen years earlier; now Gawain has surreptitiously removed it from his sister-in-law’s keep of Ravensmuir.

Gawain is on his way south to London with the relic when he stops for the night in York. He is as unimpressed with the hospitality he enjoys at the tavern he selects – “The meat served to the guests was sinewy, the gravy thin, and the bread tough enough to break a tooth.” – until a gorgeous whore walks in and picks him for her patron for the night. Gawain is happy to oblige, and they spend a passionate night together. The next morning he wakes up and finds the whore and the Titulus Croce gone. Most unusual for 1371, the whore was literate, and she left him a taunting note, which she signed, “Evangeline.”

Evangeline of Inverfyre is the second narrator of The Scoundrel, alternating sections of the text with Gawain, so that we are shown events from the points-of-view of both of the lovers.

Evangeline is desperate to reclaim the Titulus Croce, and with it, Inverfyre’s prosperity. Inverfyre is a poor holding, with little arable land, its only resource the falcons that nest in the cliff behind the keep. Until the relic was stolen, Inverfyre lived by capturing, training, and selling falcons. Now the falcons are barren, and there are no more fledglings to raise and sell. Evangeline was willing to masquerade as a whore to get the Titulus Croce back so that the falcons will breed, and Inverfyre will thrive again. Even without the note she left behind, Gawain would probably have come after the relic…it is his ticket to retirement in sunny Sicily, after all, and Evangeline’s charms were a draw…but that note guaranteed his reappearance.

When an author uses more than one first person point-of-view, she had best be careful that the characters speak with different voices. Ms. Delacroix has succeeded in The Scoundrel. Nothing is sacred to Gawain, and many of his comments end with an unexpected twist…or two or three…as his description of Inverfyre demonstrates:

“I looked up at the keep looming high before us. It was built into the side of the hill and had the advantage that it would be spectacularly easy to defend. Why anyone would trouble to defend a sorry piece of turf in this wretched clime was beyond my comprehension, but I can appreciate good construction.”

Evangeline’s voice is more prosaic. She has a story to tell, and tell it she does. Her earnest and high-minded reasons for her actions explain why she behaves in ways that could earn her the title, “Too Stupid To Live.” Over and over, Gawain offers her good advice, which she ignores, with disastrous results for herself and for Inverfyre. I decided that Evangeline was a slow learner, but at least she had ample opportunity to explain her motivations to the reader.

Besides the unusual point-of-view, one of the strengths of The Scoundrel is that Ms. Delacroix addresses head-on the issue of reforming a con artist and thief. Love, Gawain says and Evangeline agrees, does not solve all problems. Stealing, lying, and trickery are Gawain’s way of life, and Evangeline’s love will not change that. The solution that Ms. Delacroix comes up with might…might, I emphasize…work but, if not, Ms. Delacroix still gets points for tackling a problem too often slighted in romances.

So don’t be put off when you learn that The Scoundrel is told in the first person. The Scoundrel is a romp, made more enjoyable by Gawain’s comments on the proceedings. He’ll have you chuckling even when you are most annoyed at Evangeline.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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