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Someone to Watch Over Me
by Lisa Kleypas
(Avon, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-380-80230-9
****
I've had mixed reactions to earlier books by Lisa Kleypas. I've thought some were better than others. Someone to Watch Over Me is definitely one of her better ones. I was caught up in the story from the first page.

Grant Morgan is a Bow Street Runner. (The publisher's website indicates that this is set in the Regency-era, but the story itself is vague on its exact time period.) He has been called to the Thames River by the discovery of a drowning victim. When he examines the body, he recognizes her as Vivien Duvall, a notorious courtesan. To his surprise, she is still alive.

Grant takes her to his own residence to be cared for. He notices her injuries indicate that someone tried to murder her. When Vivien awakens, she has lost her memory. Grant informs her of her identity and claims that they have been involved. In fact, Grant dislikes Vivien and has never had an affair with her, although he was attracted to her. In spite of his feelings, he knows it is his duty to investigate the attempted murder, and he intends to use Vivien to uncover the perpetrator.

The woman under Grant's roof seems very different from the Vivien he's known before. This Vivien picks up after herself, is considerate of others, and is well-read and intelligent. She is repulsed when she reads the details of her former life. Grant wonders whether her amnesia could cause a personality change. In spite of himself, he finds himself increasingly attracted to her, and Vivien is herself attracted by her virile protector.

When this attraction takes its inevitable course, Grant realizes that the woman sharing his bed cannot be the sexually experienced Vivien. Who is she? Where is the real Vivien? Now there are two women whose lives are in danger.

While the plot is sufficiently interesting to maintain a reader's attention, it is not particularly original. Countless fictional heroines have suffered from amnesia . Furthermore, the identity of the bad guy is pretty apparent. It is not the plot that is going to win admirers for this book -- it is the characters.

What is especially appealing about this story is that most of the characters are not indolent aristocrats -- they're commoners (although Grant lives very well for an ordinary working man). I've read too many historical romances where the hero's main attractions are his title and his wealth. It's nice to have a story where the hero and heroine have nobility of character rather than merely the good fortune to have been born to the right parents.

Believe me, the hero and heroine in this story are good. Maybe a little too good to be believable.

Grant has overcome a disadvantaged background to become a success, respected by persons on all levels of society. He is the hero of ha'penny books -- literally a legend in his own time. He is intelligent, industrious, dependable, honest, and gentle. His little-bitty flaws -- a temper and a capacity to carry a grudge -- are more than outweighed by his virtues.

The heroine has all the same virtues and no perceivable faults at all. In addition, she is courteous, generous, kind, and forgiving. She is so saintly she doesn't even give Grant a severe reprimand when he deserves it. In real life, this kind of excessive virtue could get on one's nerves after a while, but this isn't real life.

What this is.....is an entertaining book with appealing characters, a rare glimpse of a different level of society, and a decent plot. Someone to Watch Over Me will appeal to Ms. Kleypas' many fans and is likely to earn her new ones.

--Lesley Dunlap


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