When Dashing Met Danger

Good Groom Hunting
by Shana Galen
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-112497-9
I can’t help wonder whether there is some lesson to be learned in the parallels between Good Groom Hunting’s inappropriate title and its inappropriate heroine. Josephine Hale swears she will never groom- hunt, bad and good ones included, so why is her story crowned with such a misleading label? Then again, Josephine sounds as if she has lost her way from another fictive universe and found herself suddenly in this one. The inappropriate title is the least of her worries.

As a child, Josephine Hale and her three cousins vowed never to marry and formed the Spinsters’ Club, the premise for this loosely based series. Josephine’s story is the second. As a debutante, she remains determined to avoid that trap. She has no intention of answering to the beck and call of a man and would much rather be adventuring. So she sets out to look for her grandfather’s lost pirate treasure, certain it will give her the danger and excitement she craves. Besides, no one would dare snub or bully her if she has her own income.

Josephine has part of the treasure map; the other half is with her family enemy. She won’t let that stop her. She crawls into his bedroom and offers to be his mistress. Yes, she is silly enough to think an illicit relationship will save her from more reputable offers and naïve enough to believe it will give her enough free time to hunt around. Even the best laid plans go wrong, and this one doesn’t even come close to prize-winning quality. It’s bad enough that the new Earl of Westman turns down her offer. It’s even worse that she blurts out her quest.

When his saintly older brother died, Stephen Doubleday inherited the title as well as the debts that went with it. He returned from adventuring in India with plans to set the family’s finances straight. An unexpected chestful of pirate treasure could only help. Although he has sworn to give up his youthful rakehell ways, he isn’t immune to his next-door neighbor. He does, however, want to protect her. So when he eventually and reluctantly commits to her treasure hunt, he tries to prevent her full-hearted involvement. He doesn’t know Josephine, and how much she wants her adventure!

The story has a nice pace, which is the best I can say about it. There are few surprises, but none of them are caused by clever twists – unless of course we count the increasingly silly behavior. Stephen is a bit too serious and occasionally quite dull. The biggest problem, and for me it is quite a big one, is Josephine.

I suspect Galen wanted to create a fun-loving, daring and adventure- minded heroine, but she somehow forgot her time-period. It’s not so much the impetuous behavior that has the young woman climbing in and out of windows and propositioning men (OK, one man) that annoys me. It’s her totally anachronistic verbal and body language. Poking men in their chests and exclaiming “eew!” has its place at a New Jersey high school, but I doubt they form an integral part of a Victorian debutante’s vocabulary and gesticulation.

I was also confused when I discovered how terrified Josephine is of her mother. When she’s not offering her sexual services and galloping around the country in search of pirate treasure, this supposedly feisty Victorian maiden is cowering from her mother’s potential reaction. We all have our contradictions, but Josephine’s seem a little excessive.

I’ll let my inner pirate have the last word: disappointing read ahoy! Steer clear.

--Mary Benn

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