A Christmas Bride

His Unexpected Bride

The Inconvenient

Rhyme & Reason

Faire Game by Jo Ann Ferguson
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7521-9
Faire Game third in a series about Lady Priscilla Flanders and Sir Neville Hathaway, is touted on its cover as ďA Romantic MysteryĒ. As a romance, it falls flat; as a mystery, itís not very entertaining.

Priscilla, a widow, is back at Mermaid Cottage in the village of Stonehall-on-Sea, with her three children and her bossy Aunt Cordelia. Sir Neville, a friend of her late husbandís with whom sheíd struck up a flirtation while in London, has not contacted her since her return to the seaside. Then unusual things begin to happen. A wandering theatre troupe passes in front of her cottage, scandalizing Aunt Cordelia. Then a tent appears in Priscillaís garden, complete with a man dressed a sheik. Itís Neville, who has come to enjoy the Michaelmas Faire of a Lord Stenborough, a local nobleman. He proposes that Priscilla and her family join him at the Stenborough estate and live in tents for the duration of the Faire.

Priscilla accepts, and the Faire starts out to be a pleasant summer diversion. Then one of the actors is killed with a crossbow, and suddenly everyone appears to be in danger. The local vicar urges Priscilla to use her admirable sleuthing talents to solve the mystery. Soon Neville and Priscilla are poking around the estate, with the local constable along for the ride.

Meanwhile, Aunt Cordelia disapproves of the way Priscilla is raising her son, and she would like nothing better than to get Priscilla out of the way so she can take over the boyís upbringing. Priscilla, kind and gentle could that she is, doesnít dream of telling the old bat to mind her own business or find another place to live. Instead, sheís worried that her aunt could take the Isaac away if her feelings for Neville were known.

Thatís about it. Priscilla and Neville run around trying to solve a mystery, exchanging a kiss whenever the author remembers to put one in, and generating no heat whatsoever. This book was a struggle to finish. The mystery isnít very interesting, the villains will likely be guessed by the reader long before the end, and since this is being marketed in the Zebra Regency Romance line, whereís the romance? Maybe by book five? Or six?

Neville isnít a bad sort. Heís a bit devil-may-care, and I get the feeling that heíd cheerfully go up against Aunt Cordelia if kind, sweet, gentle Priscilla didnít get in the way. Priscilla, however, is irritating. Sheís a paragon wrapped in enough know-it-all to be annoying on just about every level. Of course, she spots the clues that everyone else misses. Yet she doesnít have the brains or spine to deal with her aunt.

Iím all for authors switching genres if thatís their heartís desire. This series, however, doesnít deliver on either the mystery or the romance, and what that leaves for readers is a whole lot of undelivered expectations. Marketing it as a romance just makes it look like the author is more interested in stringing out a series and staying in print than providing readers with a romantic read. Who knows? It may be successful; at the rate this red-hot couple is moving, it will be book fourteen before they figure out they love each other. If you have the patience for that, by all means, try Faire Game or one of the previous books in the series. I, however, am off to find a real romance. I wish Neville and Priscilla well - but I wonít be back to see how they end up.

--Cathy Sova

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