By Love Undone

London’s Perfect Scoundrel

A Matter of Scandal

Meet Me at Midnight

The Rake

Reforming a Rake

Taming Rafe

An Invitation to Sin
by Suzanne Enoch
(Avon, $6.99, R) ISBN 006-054327-2
On the back cover of this story is a quote about the witty dialogue and sizzling romance that Enoch is known for. It is this that keeps An Invitation to Sin acceptable; unfortunately the plot and the characters generated less enthusiasm for this reader.

Zachary Griffin, third in the hierarchy of Griffin brothers, is out of sorts. He has always been the charming one and yet has also been the one who cannot settle on any project and flits from interest to interest, never really finishing anything. His latest idea is to join the army and actually go fight on the Continent. His oldest brother, Sebastian, the Duke of Melbourne doesn’t want him to do that. So he invents an errand escorting their Aunt Gladys Tremaine to Bath to help recover from her gout. Sebastian assures Zachary that once this errand is completed, he will discuss his quest, providing Zachary can demonstrate patience and responsibility. Sebastian is assuming that Zachary will have changed his mind about going to war, and if not, Sebastian will have had time to block all the avenues open to him.

So Zach heads to Bath, only to discover that Aunt Gladys wants to detour to Witfield Manor to see an old school friend, who just happens to have seven lovely daughters, five of whom are of marriageable age. Zachary, at twenty-four, has had plenty of opportunity to sow his oats and to avoid all the tricks of the Marriage Mart. Yet he is overwhelmed by the horde of women, all of whom have been stuck in rural England and all of whom are determined to garner his attention. It is difficult to keep their names separate, except for the eldest.

Caroline is unique among the girls. First, she is not interested in marriage and thus does not giggle and follow him like a dog seeking a petting. Secondly, she is interested in Zachary only for his body parts; especially the parts she would like to paint. In fact, she is desperate to paint his portrait. Caroline is an artist, and is actually quite good. Unfortunately, she is a female artist at a time when females are not readily accepted in art schools or as apprentices. Caroline has one hope left. A master in Vienna has requested a finished portrait of an aristocrat with a letter of recommendation. She needs this within a month in order to be accepted. Zachary is not only an aristocrat, but he is handsome and would make a grand painting. If this application is not accepted, her parents have given Caroline an ultimatum. She will either need to marry or she will be hired by local eccentrics who see themselves as gentry and forced to tutor their children in art. It is a purely financial decision because they can no longer afford her to indulge her interest when they have so many marriageable girls to find husbands.

After some machinations, Zachary agrees to sit for the portrait. To appease the other girls, Zachary’s time is scheduled so that he spends an hour or so of each day with each sister. While he is not enthusiastic, he realizes that this is part of that responsibility that Sebastian was spouting to him. He has no intention of marrying any of these girls so he decides to help them learn how to attract a man. And he is determined to explore his attraction to Caroline, who he initially assumed was propositioning him when she asked him to pose for her.

The difficulty with the plot is that there is not much to maintain the readers’ interest for 300-plus pages. Zachary does garner a new interest thanks to Mr. Witfield and this interest brings the Duke to investigate, thus adding some new twists. However, the bulk of the story consists of Caroline’s obsession with her painting, Zachary’s obsession with getting to know Caroline more intimately and avoiding entanglements with the sisters. The fact that Caroline and Zachary are matched and do develop a friendship before they become lovers is a saving grace. But the tale has spots of inaction that slows the story down. Some of the decisions made by both Caroline and Zachary seem immature and almost adolescent. The sisters, except for Anne, are pure twaddle – twittering and giggling with nothing on their minds except marriage, bonnets and men.

An Invitation to Sin is an entertaining interlude for the majority of the story. The dialogue redeems it and the writing style interjects humor throughout the story, while being diminished by a less than stellar cast of characters and a lack of action to sustain the reader’s enthusiasm. Thus it is an acceptable reading experience but nothing more.

--Shirley Lyons

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