Before I began this review, I went to the TRR archives to check out whether Jo Goodman is the Jo Goodman I thought she was. Let me explain this confusing sentence. I had a very strong memory of really liking this author’s books and my response to this effort was lukewarm, to say the least. And yes, there were three four-heart reviews by yours truly of Goodman’s recent books. So what gives here? Then, I read another review by one of my colleagues, a much less positive response to a reprint of an earlier book.
Reprint! I said to myself and, lo and behold, when I checked the front of the book, there it was: copyright, 1989! Suddenly it made sense why I felt while I was reading Tempting Torment that I had stepped back into the romance writing past. I had done just that. And this rerelease is proof positive of just how far romance and Ms. Goodman have come in the past twelve years.
Let’s start with the fact that the entire premise of the book is based on a historical fallacy. Jessica Winter, orphaned daughter of an impoverished lord, has become nursery governess to young Adam Penberthy. When Adam’s parents are killed in a carriage accident, his third cousin becomes his guardian. Edward’s grasping wife Barbara plots to kill the infant so that her husband will inherit the title and fortune. So Jessica flees with Adam.
To gain money to enable her to leave the country, Jessica conspires with some of her less than respectable friends to rob a coach. Unfortunately, things go awry and one of the passengers, Noah McClellan, is wounded. Jessica feels just dreadful that the nice American has gotten hurt and she nurses him as best she can. But it looks like he will die so her friend gets this brilliant idea: Jessica can marry the dying man and then present herself to his associates as the grieving widow and they will send her to America. So the two get a drunken priest to come to the cottage and perform the ceremony.
Of course, Noah doesn’t die but comes to his senses to discover that he has acquired a wife. He is not unsurprisingly upset, especially considering the fact that he has a fiancée back in Philadelphia. But he decides to take Jessica and the baby with him and to enjoy the benefits of marriage while on board ship.
Now, I trust that readers even minimally aware of the procedures governing marriage in England in 1787 can perceive the problem here. A valid marriage required either the posting of banns for three weeks in one of the party’s parish or the purchase of a special license. Thus, Noah and Jessica are not married and the entire premise of the story
Given my own particular preference for historical accuracy, I will almost never recommend a book containing a howler like the above. I can accept minor departures from verisimilitude - after all, we are reading fiction - but when the entire plot depends on a misrepresentation of fact, well, it simply ruins the book for me.
However, my “think twice” warning results not just from Goodman’s historical error, but rather from the actions of both the hero and the heroine after they set out on this mythical marriage. Jessica has a penchant for behaving foolishly, something I cannot admire in a heroine. Noah manages to behave nastily on more than a few occasions, something
that I do not like in a hero.
Tempting Torment is clearly an 80’s romance which has not worn well. The genre has moved on since 1989 and while I miss some of the characteristics of these older novels found here - especially the larger canvass on which the story takes place - I do not miss the semi-coercive nature that characterizes some of the love scenes in this book or the failure to get the facts straight. Hence the warning.
NB: The book also contains a novella dealing with the romance of two of the secondary characters from Tempting Torment. "Tidewater Promise" is the tale of one of Noah's McClellan's nieces who finally realizes that her childhood friend is her true love. It is a most enjoyable story.