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Wild Flower

 
The Marriage Masquerade
by Cheryl Anne Porter
(St. Martin’s, $6.99 PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97896-0
***
Never, in all my romance reading life, did I ever think I’d want an author to spend less time on character interaction. After spending far too long reading The Marriage Masquerade, I found that I just wanted the hero and heroine to stop talking to each other.

Pinkerton operative Sarah “Yancey” Calhoun has been receiving letters from the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, begging Yancey to return to her son, Sarah’s estranged husband, Samuel Treyhorne. Although Yancey knows the duchess has the wrong woman, another Sarah Calhoun has recently been murdered and Yancey could be next. On the advice of Mr. Pinkerton, Yancey leaves for England to figure out what is going on.

Sam has a mystery of his own to solve. His older brother Geoffrey, the original Duke, died suspiciously and he suspects his shady cousin Roderick may be involved. When a pretty Pinkerton agent shows up pretending to be his American wife, Sam goes along with the charade in order to smoke out his brother’s killer. Eventually the two find their false feelings growing all too real.

Though a Western that turns into a British mystery has promise, it’s an empty one. The only thing that made this book work for me was the main characters.

Yancey, despite being in a traditionally male profession, doesn’t resent her gender like so many other heroines. She may know her way around a gun, but she also appreciates a nice ballgown and being female. She also isn’t all independent woman on the outside but just dying to settle down and start cranking out the babies on in the inside. Her attitude toward sex is refreshingly healthy. She’s a woman, a nice attractive man catches her fancy and she’d like to do something about it.

This attitude is well matched in Sam. When Yancey tells him he won’t be the first, his reaction is priceless.

“Good. That means I won’t have to explain everything to you. Or worry that you’ll be frightened by the sight of an aroused man.”

One can’t help but wonder if this is a subtle little dig at the preponderance of quivering virgin heroines in historical romance. It was very amusing.

Sam also avoids his own stereotypical hero mold. At first he tries the arrogant aristocrat routine, but Yancey’s quickly puts an end to that. Sam enjoys her candor and appreciates her for what she is. Not once does he try to convince her that what she really wants is to be the little woman. The fact that Sam is open with his feelings for Yancey puts him over the top.

As much as I enjoyed the characters, however, the book went on for an interminably long time. At some points it felt like it was aimlessly moving along with no real purpose, other than listening to Yancey and Sam get to know each other

There is a lot of dialogue in this story. On one hand, this is a good thing. Nothing beats a heroine and hero that talk to each other, without deceptions or misunderstandings. Yancey and Sam’s repartee can be fun to read, especially when they poke fun at the disparity between American sensibility and British nobility. Porter writes some witty dialogue that will elicit a chuckle from the reader.

On the other hand, there is a case for too much of a good thing. The overabundance of dialogue slows down the pace of the novel considerably. Most of the plot points are revealed in conversation, and at times it is like reading the story in real-time. After a while, a reader gets weary of listening to two people talk about everything and longs for some action.

What isn’t told in dialogue is told through character introspection and that again impedes the pace of the novel. In once scene, the reader wades through six, count them, six pages of Yancey having her hair done while she mulls over her growing feelings for Sam. Repeated instances of Yancey’s thoughts being interrupted by her maid’s complaints about her hair does not make for page turning action.

The subplot involving the Pinkerton case really only makes an appearance at the end of the book, and by that time it has been so long since it was introduced that a reader has a hard time renewing any interest in it.

I would recommend The Marriage Masquerade for the sake of Yancey and Sam, but the fact that it was so difficult to read makes it merely acceptable.

--Anne Bulin


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