The Seductive Spy
by Martha Kirkland
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6123-4
***
At a French prisoner-of-war camp near the Spanish border, an officer and a Sergeant Major force a wounded prisoner to drink laudanum. They know he'll be furious but trust he won't awaken until he's half-way across the English Channel.

Rosalind Hinton, in her mid-twenties, is the unwed elder sister of three married sisters. (There's no explanation of why she has remained unwed.) Her family expects her to be at the beck and call of her sisters as an unpaid servant. Rosalind is determined to avoid the summons from one such sister and to embrace adventure. An item in the newspaper informs her that Lieutenant George Ashford, wounded during the battle of Corunna, has been taken to his family seat to recuperate. She persuades her aunt to accompany her on a visit to the wounded officer, whom she had met years before at a cousin's wedding..

Sir Miles Vernon, Ashford's great-uncle, is deeply grateful that his great-nephew has been restored to him. They had parted after a quarrel and have been separated for five years. He paid dearly to have his great-nephew repatriated from the prisoner-of-war camp, but Ashford is still gravely ill.

Sir Miles is pleased to welcome the two ladies into his home. He believes that the sight of Rosalind's pretty face will help restore Ashford to good health.

Rosalind is shocked by the changes in Ashford. It is his subsequent behavior, however, that convinces her that the wounded man is an imposter. Rather than the heroic George Ashford, this man must be a French spy!

So what's a girl to do if she suspects that an enemy spy is impersonating an imprisoned officer? Report him to the authorities? Inform his duped great-uncle? No way. This is fiction with a capital 'F' and Rosalind wants adventure.

Perhaps this might have been a more successful story if the occasional glimpses of originality weren't so few and far between. The scene where Rosalind confronts the suspected spy is amusing; the scene where Ashford tells her about his gratitude to the young lad who saved his life is touching. The vast majority of the book, however, is far too flat. The author tells us that the characters do this, think that. The reader knows that Rosalind realizes she's in love because the author tells us so not because of a perceived change in Rosalind unless doing something extremely reckless is evidence of love.

I prefer an intrepid heroine, but she shouldn't be incapable of demonstrating a little common sense from time to time. In the first chapter Rosalind is described as having been a shy, reticent child. It's a good thing that's stated right up front because you'd never know it from her subsequent actions. Over the course of the story, Rosalind never thinks twice about jumping into questionable situations.

She also falls into one of those annoying stock plot devices: "I can't marry him because he doesn't love me." She's facing a life-long future of being the put-upon maiden aunt. She's been thoroughly compromised. She loves him and agonizes over a life without him. He's titled and rich. But she can't marry him because he doesn't love her? Oh, puhleez..

The hero is slightly better. He's stalwart, patriotic, and brave. He's also a bit on the foolhardy side; nevertheless his actions are more believable in light of his character than Rosalind's.

Readers may decide that The Seductive Spy is an acceptable way to pass a few hours but seductive it isn't.

--Lesley Dunlap


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