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A Touch of Sin by Susan Johnson
(Bantam, $5.99, NC-17) ISBN 0-553-57865-0
Only a Susan Johnson novel with pages and pages and pages of marathon illicit sex, abduction, and rape with an instrument could be titled A Touch of Sin. The mind boggles what Ms. Johnson would deem deserving of the title A Tub of Sin.

Here's the set-up. Pasha Duras and his father, André, (from Johnson's Taboo) find a naked woman in bed with an axe-murder victim. They spirit her out of the Parisian apartment so that she won't be suspected by the police. (André believes that she is innocent because of the blood spatter pattern – very advanced-thinking of him considering the book takes place in 1825 not 1999.) Pasha (can you tell me who'd name their sweet, little newborn baby 'Pasha'?) promptly drives Beatrix (Trixi) Grosvenor to his house. He learns that she's both a widow and has a love child. Trixi's first action upon reaching his house is to try to rob Pasha of every franc she can lay her hands on, but Pasha catches her before she can escape.

Naturally, Pasha has not brought her to his house for purely innocent reasons (his first sexual experience was at age fourteen and he's been "stud to half of Paris" since), and they're in a passionate embrace in no time flat. Trixi's shy behavior (it depends on your definition of 'shy' – she's not so shy that she's not noticing "his erection is enormous, hot against her body") reminds Pasha he has a conscience and he suddenly wonders if she's a virgin. He arranges a sumptuous dinner. (This provides Ms. Johnson with an opportunity to include the first of her ubiquitous footnotes which outlines the history of the soufflé.) Over dinner the seduction continues, and Trixi's two-year period of celibacy is becoming an increasing burden.

"I want your clothes off," she impetuously said, allowing her fevered longings expression, understanding she couldn't rationalize her feelings away no matter how much she talked. "I find myself very susceptible to your sexual allure."

(As I said, it depends on your definition of 'shy.') They soon are having sex (you can't call it 'making love'), more sex, and still more sex. Graphic sex, precisely detailed sex, anatomically specific sex. "Unforgettable even for a man of excess."

That's only Chapter One.

As the story continues, Trixi's legal problems concerning her son's inheritance are revealed (Ms. Johnson has based this subplot on a true story of lovers who were nephew and aunt –recounted in extensive footnotes, of course); Pasha demonstrates he's generous to those in need and good with kids. Pasha runs off to join the Greek rebellion; Trixi's son is threatened; they run off. Trixi gets abducted, carried off to Turkey, dosed with an aphrodisiac-laced drug, manipulated (supply your own synonym) with a dildo. (Still more footnotes.) And, of course, there's lots more sex. And footnotes.

Some readers would call this erotic. No one would call this romantic.

Ms. Johnson doesn't waste much time on character development. Pasha's a testosterone-charged sex machine. Trixi's hot to trot. What more can you expect? Any emotional attachment that doesn't depend on large – and long – physical attributes seems to be reserved for mother and child. The contrived plot is only an excuse to get sex and more sex in new and different places and ways.

When the TRR Editor-in-Chief assigned me this book, I thought it'd be a nice break from the thrillers and mysteries I've been reading lately. Well, that it was – if you consider wallowing in a cesspool a break. I'm going back to mysteries.

But first I'm taking a bath.

--Lesley Dunlap

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