Wicked Angel

Yankee Earl

Texas Viscount by Shirl Henke
(Leisure, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-5243-1
Part of her American Lords series, Texas Viscount is a tale that is fun and enjoyable on the one hand, and long and rather tedious on the other. It is as if Henke gets into the background tale and doesn’t really know how to end it or thinks she has to prolong the action to convince us the hero and heroine are really in love. Whatever her reason, the story is too long and the political espionage gets too complicated for true entertainment.

Joshua Cantrell was born of the British peerage, however, he didn't know it. His parents immigrated to America, where his father, who was somewhat of a wastrel, died. This left Josh's mother to fend for herself. She took a job as a maid in a bordello, only to die of consumption when he was a toddler, leaving him in the caring hands of the ladies of Garter Gertie's bordello. Raised in those surroundings in Texas, Josh is determined to make something of himself. He spends time in Theodore Roosevelt's army, earns enough to buy a ranch and makes a fortune. Roosevelt himself asks Josh to travel to England to meet the grandfather he never knew he had and while he is there, to help English spies stop an assassination of a Japanese prime minister by Russian spies.

His grandfather is the elderly Earl of Hambleton. He has searched for years for Josh and now that he has found him, he wants Josh to assume his place in English society. (The fact that he is working for the war department and is the one behind enlisting Josh's help for this mission is also convenient). In order to help Josh, he hires Sabrina Edgewater to be his tutor and deportment coach. He is also doing a little matchmaking along the way.

Sabrina is an interesting character. She is the daughter of a vicar, so she is on the edge of society. She has been a tutor for young girls for years, but her dream is to open her own school, not for society misses, but for girls who have nowhere else to go and who live on the streets. (How this passion developed is never fully explained). She and Josh do not hit it off well when they meet; however, both are attracted. Josh has some manners, having been exposed to the upper crust of society in America. But he likes shocking Sabrina with his language, his lack of etiquette and his general exaggeration of how the British expect an American heathen to act.

Sabrina is blackmailed into taking the position by the Earl. He destroys all of her relationships with her current students, leaving her no choice but to take this job or starve. He dangles the carrot of providing funding for her school when all is said and done. She accepts and the adventure begins.

The espionage revolves around the assassination attempt and it involves Josh, the Earl, Sabrina's cousin (who is duped into being a courier because of his gambling debts), an English spy named Jamieson and a cast of Russians. The Russians are portrayed as hard-drinking, mean-spirited and sly. One of the Russians is a ballerina who tempts Josh and provides the jealous lover scene between Sabrina and Josh.

While the romance and the espionage are intricately woven together at times, the romance develops rather easily except that neither Josh nor Sabrina have admitted to the other that they are in love. Rather than resolving this, Henke throws us into the Russian plot and English counterplot and even adds an additional element of a traitor in the Earl's home. The book was well written, but it felt like these pages just added to the length of the book rather than to the depth of the story.

Set around the turn of the century (no real date is given), the author takes license with the time frame of true historical facts, as she admits in her ending author's note. The automobile plays a part in this tale and is an interesting addition to the story. Josh's character is a mix of country bumpkin and intelligence officer, leading to a sense of not really knowing what made him tick. Sabrina is intelligent and independent, yet has no self-esteem around men due to one incident in her past. But together they sparkle. Their dialogue is generally crisp and their interactions both humorous and full of sexual tension. It was fun watching them spar their way into love.

Texas Viscount is a mixed bag of love, humor, sexual tension, intrigue, and espionage. Sometimes it works and other times it borders on the edge of tiresome. It follows the pattern of many of Henke's books, so if you are a fan of hers, this one will be sure to satisfy.

--Shirley Lyons

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