The Reluctant Thief by April Kihlstrom
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-19468-3
***
I have not read the previous books by Kihlstrom which told the stories of the older daughters in the Earl of Westcott's household. But I personally believe that each book in a series should be able to stand on its own merits. I found that this latest book could stand on its own two feet, though it did list rather badly to one side. Shall we say it needed a little propping up? All in all, it had a cute premise, but it just didn't "quite come up to snuff."

In The Reluctant Thief, we meet the Earl's last two daughters Lady Rebecca and her twin sister Penelope in London for their first season, accompanied by their parents and their governess, Miss Tibbles. As children, Penelope and Rebecca made a pact they will not marry, no matter how much pressure is put upon them by their family. Penelope is adamant about her desire to live without a husband who would have complete control over her life, her fortune, and her rights. Rebecca is having some second thoughts, but dutifully promises her sister they still have a pact.

Lady Rebecca goes out with her maid that first morning in London "Her intelligence was lively and she was consumed with curiosity about everything she saw." She was drawn, somehow, to the enigma of a street vagabond with "an unusual degree of intelligence in his fine blue eyes." Suddenly, she finds herself rescued from the path of an oncoming carriage by the very same. She takes him home, yet another in a series of rescued animals with broken wings, and damaged paws... and persuades her family to give him a position on the house staff. Rebecca is going to "save" Hugh but somehow, she's not quick-witted enough to notice the variances in his speech patterns.

Lord Hugh Rowland is masquerading as a street thief, hoping to infiltrate a mob of thieves. This mob is controlled by a well placed member of the ton, who is using young bored gentlemen to discover objects of value, and then sending out his band of street thieves to rob the homes and persons of his counterparts. Hugh is, of course, a gentleman, but able to imitate the street thief's dialect. Far too long for me to have to read dialog such as "'Ow, m'lydie? 'Ow can yer 'elps the loikes o' me?", and his lapses back to normal speech patterns go almost unnoticed by Rebecca. I just wanted to shake her when she danced with Hugh, as his true self, at a masquerade ball and didn't recognize his voice!

The rest of the story is concocted with all the prerequisites of a Regency set romance but the intrigue is ill disguised, the secondary characters as sketchy as the main, Hugh has an enormous misguided "misunderstanding" about his own character, and there is too much desperate dashing about the streets of London in near death escapades, jail breaks, and kidnappings. Hugh and Rebecca's love story just gets lost in the shuffle.

I did enjoy the character of the stern governess, Miss Tibble, but because of my smudged glasses and old eyes my first mental picture of her was not at all what you would think. I misread "Tibble" as "Tribble," and visualized her character with a lumpy, furry hair style more suited to a character from the classic television show Star Trek.

The Reluctant Thief has its problems, but if you've read the rest of the series about the daughters Westcott, you won't want to miss Rebecca's story. And of course, Penelope's story is yet to be told. I hope it's told with a bit more development of the love story in what promises to be another interesting "I'll never marry" type Regency. I'll enjoy meeting Miss Tibble again, and promise not to "see" a tri-corder in her hand.

--Julia S. Sandlin


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