The Naked Duke by Sally MacKenzie
(Zebra, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7831-5
The Naked Duke is Sally MacKenzie’s first book. While MacKenzie has an appealing voice, the stock characters make the story difficult to enjoy.

Sarah Hamilton fulfills a deathbed promise to her father by leaving America and going to her cousin in England. Exhausted, Sarah stops at the Green Man, an inn where she will sleep before going to see her cousin. The problem is that the innkeeper says there are no rooms available. When a man steps in and ushers her to a room, Sarah gratefully accepts and goes to bed.

However, the room is already spoken for. James, the Duke of Alford, returns to his room after enjoying the taproom with some friends and discovers a beautiful young woman is sleeping in the bed. When the woman doesn’t wake up, James gets into bed with her and decides to “see how things stood in the morning.”

Sarah wakes up to a surprise when she discovers that she is naked and that a naked man is in bed with her. Her screams bring several people to the room, including James’s aunt Gladys. Eventually things are sorted out, when James’s friend confesses that he thought Sarah was a prostitute he had arranged for James. When he learns that Sarah is not who he thought she was, James decides to marry her.

Sarah is reluctant to agree. She finds James attractive, but she doesn’t know him and cares little about the rules of polite society. The group ultimately decides that she will live at the Alford estate with James’s aunt acting as a chaperone. This will allow Sarah to spend time with James and decide whether she will marry him.

The Naked Duke has a lighthearted tone that makes it easy to read. However, the characters are frustrating and all too familiar. Sarah is a plucky, innocent American whose fresh attitude makes her very appealing to James. James is kind, dutiful, noble, and understanding. Despite all of these fine qualities, neither Sarah nor James comes fully to life. Instead, they remind me of stock characters from old melodramas. James’s evil cousin, Richard, does nothing to counter this impression. There’s no complexity to his character — he’s an evil man capable of rape and murder.

The character’s choices add to the frustration. James falls for Sarah almost instantly and inexplicably, based on how little he knows about her. It’s difficult to believe that he hadn’t met someone before this who attracted him. His statement that London women value only his title or his money is hard to believe. As for Sarah, I lost patience with her when she spends numerous pages believing something Richard says about James. She knows that Richard hates James. Before meeting James, she meets and describes Richard as “evil,” so why does she accept what he says without even asking James about it?

By the time I finished The Naked Duke, I was ready to put it down. Unless you have a fondness for melodrama, I suggest you think twice before picking it up.

--Alyssa Hurzeler

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