The Wedding Chase
by Rebecca Kelley
(Bantam, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN:0-553-57870-7
**
I want to encourage new authors; indeed, I usually give the benefit of the doubt to first novels. But honesty compels me to say that I found too many jarring elements in Rebecca Kelley's debut book. And when I found myself struggling to finish the story, I knew that I would have to rate The Wedding Chase as slightly less than acceptable.

The plot is a familiar one: rake about town meets strong minded young woman past her first blush of youth. Rake finds woman strangely attractive. Rake pursues woman with less than honorable intentions. Rake gets caught with his pants down. Rake has to marry young woman.

And it's the best thing for both of them.

If Kelley had zeroed in on her plot perhaps the book would have been much stronger. But there was so much excess baggage that the storyline got obscured. Let me explain.

Wolfgang Hardwicke, the Earl of Northcliffe first meets Miss Grizelda Fleetwood when he rescues her drunken brother from a gambling hell. But the rescue came to late to prevent Robin from losing the stake he hoped would tow him out of the River Tick. Now, he faces debtor's prison. After all, his reprobate father can't help him. His only hope is that sister Zel who has assiduously avoided marriage can catch a rich husband despite her advanced age and unfashionable garb. And so Zel is sent off to a house party while her aunt makes over her clothes to fit her niece. There, Wolfgang again sees the woman who caught his fancy and discovers that she not only shares his love of music but is an extremely talented musician.

Thus the pursuit. The attentions of the notorious Northcliffe rescue Zel from obscurity; but they also make her the target of gossip and innuendo. So Wolfgang invites his grandmother to London to lend Grizelda her countenance. However, whenever the two of them get together, the attraction leads to potentially scandalous behavior. Moreover, Wolfgang has an enemy who is seeking to ruin him, and using his relationship with Zel for his own fell purposes. In addition, Zel's no-good brother is convinced that Northcliffe was responsible for his losing his money; her wretched father is causing trouble; and feelings for Northcliffe have her completely confused. Moreover, there have been a number of attempts on Wolfgang's life. Could Robin be responsible? Oh, and how is Zel going to find the money to support her shelter for battered wives if she loses her reputation?

Does the above give you a sense of the complexity that bedevils The Wedding Chase? It is almost as if Kelley threw every plot idea she ever had just in case she doesn't get a chance to write another book.

There are some inconsistencies and annoyances that detracted from my enjoyment of the book. The central premise that Zel will be able to attract a rich husband who will be willing to take on the Fleetwood problems seems improbable given her age and personality. Nor does Kelley succeed in showing why Zel would sacrifice everything for her brother.

And one thing that absolutely drove me crazy was Kelley's habit of having Wolfgang continually begin sentences with ejaculations like "Mary Magdalene's bloomers" (an anachronism) or "Satan's small clothes" or "Mother of Lucifer" or "Spawn of the devil" (to list just a few). There are not expressions that seem indigenous to the Regency era and I had no idea as to why the author kept inserting them.

There were good elements to the book. I rather liked the hero (when he wasn't Lucifering all over the place) and the heroine. I thought Kelley did a fine job detailing their confusion about how they felt about each other. Their relationship was the best part of the story.

I would have liked to have at least rated this book as acceptable, but I just felt there were too many problems. I do hope Kelley continues to develop as a writer and that she can provide her hero and heroine with a better story.

--Jean Mason


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