My Wicked Marquess
by Constance Hall
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6302-4
**
As Christmas tales go, My Wicked Marquess is an empty package. Like so many other romances that appear this time of year, My Wicked Marquess comes gift wrapped in a seasonal cover with a big red bow. Don’t let it fool ya. It’s merely a ruse invented by tricky publishers to lure unsuspecting readers into forking over hard earned bucks for “holiday” tales that are really non-seasonal regurgitation of standard fare. But the fact of the matter is, aside from the holiday aspect of things, My Wicked Marquess just isn’t a very good book.

Completely predictable with cookie-cutter characters straight out of Poppin’ Fresh’s oven, My Wicked Marquess tells the amorous tale of a bored aristocrat and a spunky heroine who, like so many other spunky heroines, never listens to anyone and therefore invites all sorts of trouble upon herself.

Sparks fly in London, circa 1823, when Meagan Fenwick meets Lord Barrett Rothchild, the aforementioned title character. Meagan first meets Barrett when she is reading palms at a winter carnival. He is instantly smitten. How convenient then that she turns out to be the sister of the man he has been ordered to investigate, Meagan’s brother Harold. When Harold gambles away Meagan’s hand in marriage to…oh let me not keep you in suspense -- surprise -- Barrett, it gives the bored Lord a chance to get close to both the brother and the sister. Barrett is trying to discover the depth of Harold’s involvement with a dangerous underground organization. His cover: marry Meagan.

Our heroine is one of those annoying women who blindly rushes into danger every time someone, usually Barrett, warns her to stay put. Barrett of course turns out to be a rather generous bloke, paying off Harold’s debts without asking much in return. But he’s really rather blasé as heroes go. As a result, the reader has a hard time gathering much excitement of any kind for the goings on. The story builds little momentum, and the big mystery, that of the identity of the murderous leader of the underground group, is really no surprise at all.

All in all, My Wicked Marquess is a forgettable tale that never manages to instill even the slightest bit of holiday spirit.

--Ann McGuire


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