Come What May

Daring the Devil

Jackson's Way

Lady Reckless

Maddie's Justice

The Perfect Seduction

The Perfect Temptation

The Perfect Desire
by Leslie LaFoy
(St. Martin’s, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-98765-X
This book about pirate treasure, kidnapping, murder, a female spy and a “notorious womanizer,” is written with all the verve of a carthorse plodding towards the glue factory.

One night at the theatre, bored by his parents’ relentless matchmaking, Barrett Standbridge picks up a beautiful courtesan. Their sexual marathon comes with a high price, though, when Mignon’s dead body is discovered the next morning behind his house. Rumor has it that Barrett will be arrested for murder, but Isabella Dandaneau arrives ahead of the police.

Belle knows Barrett didn’t kill her cousin. Americans from Louisiana, Belle and Mignon each inherited half a map purporting to lead to the pirate treasure of Jean Lafitte. Greedy Mignon came to London, believing (for reasons that are never adequately explained) that the treasure is located in England and hoping to find it and keep it for herself.

But someone has followed Mignon from America. After her death, her lodgings were ransacked, but Belle believes the map was not discovered and that Mignon hid it somewhere in Barrett’s home. In return for permission to search for the map, Belle will write a letter to the authorities telling them the whole story and clearing Barrett’s name. Suspicion will then fall on her, though, so naturally she’ll have to disappear.

Barrett, a private investigator, immediately sees the holes in that ridiculous idea, and determines to join Belle in her search for the map. This should lead them not only to Lafitte’s treasure, but also to the true murderer. The police will likely come for him at any moment, however, so it will be necessary for them to go into hiding together.

From the set-up, I expected lots of action, but instead got one of the most inert stories I’ve ever read. We’re told that Belle and Barrett are both warriors, each in their own way, but for the vast majority of the book they sit around talking. They talk about Mignon, they talk about how to find the map and the treasure, and they talk about themselves and their backgrounds, all without managing to reveal anything interesting or unique about themselves. These two aren’t rounded characters – they’re the cardboard cutouts propped up in the lobby of the stereotype bank.

Every once in a while, the author seems to realize we aren’t actually learning anything, so we’re offered an interior monologue in which the hero or heroine very kindly explains something about themselves or the other character to us. Or, worse, treats us to lots of mental lusting. Some authors think mental lust is character or plot development, and perhaps some readers do, as well. I am not one of them. Mental lusting is telling, and it’s boring.

Because Belle and Barrett do so much talking, you’d think the author would craft the dialogue with exquisite care. Unfortunately, there’s disappointment here, as well. The writing varies from the innocuous to the excruciating. The characters don’t just ‘say’ things, they venture, assure, protest, scoff, announce, admit, concede, drawl, supply, muse, declare, observe, contribute and (whenever, they disagree) counter. They ‘counter’ each other repeatedly. They counter dryly, counter acerbically, counter laughingly, counter drolly, counter angrily.

There is also an enormous amount of ‘silent’ communication (or non-communication, as the case may be) that becomes inadvertently hilarious. They silently pray, silently answer, silently challenge, silently grumble, silently swear, silently amend, silently growl, silently quip and silently groan. After a few pages of this, I was groaning out loud. Apparently, the author believes that it doesn’t matter so much what the characters say, as long as we know how they say it.

Finally, Barrett never actually needs to use his vaunted investigative skills because a bizarre paranormal element is introduced which miraculously solves several problems. Again, no action required – just a conversation. So much blah, blah, blah makes the story, well, blah.

This book could not be said to stand on its own, but you may enjoy it more than I did if you’re already invested in the series. I only finished this one because my editor said I had to; I’m certainly not inspired to search out the earlier installments.

-- Judi McKee

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