A Passionate Performance

The Dastardly Duke

The Perfect Wife

Reforming Harriet

Never Trust a Rake by Eileen Putnam
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80289-9
I have a pretty high implausibility quotient. I am as willing as the next reader to suspend disbelief in pursuit of a good story. But sometimes a book simply goes so far that I end up shaking my head in bewilderment. I’m afraid that Eileen Putnam’s first Regency historical had my head moving too often to be a complete success, despite some very attractive features.

Let’s begin with the attractive features. The first is the hero. Gabriel Sinclair is the rake of the title. Sinclair is the last in the line of a very idiosyncratic family. His father had been a mad inventor who, after his eldest son died at Aboukir Bay, retreated to an island off the Kentish coast where he attempted to develop a weapon to destroy a French invasion fleet. Gabriel thus lived from the age of eight to eighteen isolated from society. On his father’s death, he escaped Sinclair Isle and for the previous decade, had led a vagabond life.

Back in London, he has the misfortune to accept a foolish bet: the winner will be the one who most quickly obtains a lock of a virgin’s hair. An inebriated Sinclair espies a convent full of virgins, but in pursuit of his prize, he falls afoul of the law. Thus, one fine day, he finds himself standing on a gibbet, awaiting the fall of the trapdoor that will introduce him to eternity.

Instead he meets Louisa Peabody. After a forced marriage to a licentious lout (which fortunately lasted for a mere six hours but left her a wealthy widow), Louisa has set out to right the wrongs of womankind. She has already saved a number of women from unjust sentences. Accompanied by her henchman David, Amelia’s purpose that day was to rescue a woman condemned for stealing a loaf of bread. But a change in the schedule of executions results in their saving Sinclair instead.

Louisa is appalled that poor Miss Wentworth has now been sent to the prison hulks. Discovering that Sinclair knows about ships, she bribes him to assist her in saving the poor woman. The daring rescue achieved (humorously, Miss Wentworth is not eager to be saved nor does she especially fit in with the small community of wronged women), Sinclair can now leave Peabody Manor -- except for the fact that he is strangely attracted to the lovely Louisa and that she has discovered that there are four other women on the prison hulk in need of rescue.

What were some of the aspects of the story that left me shaking my head? Well, the first is the fact that Sinclair turns out to be Lord Sinclair. As a peer, he should have been tried in the House of Lords and it would have been most unlikely that he would have ended up on that gibbet in the first place. While Gabriel is presented as a man with a jaundiced view of life and society, he is not suicidal. There is no reason to suggest that he would not have used his title to save himself.

The second problem I had was the idea that Louisa and David could go around England rescuing women from the hangman’s noose and then could have serenely lived in Kent without any seeming worries about being discovered. The coast of Kent is not that isolated.

The final difficulty -- and the one that pushed me over the top -- had to do with the means used to achieve the last rescue. Since this occurs at the end of the book, I will say no more. Despite the fact that the author did her research about the possibility that such means could have been used, my improbability quotient went into overload at this point.

The romance is nicely done. Gabriel (or as Louisa always calls him, Sinclair), lost everything to his father’s obsession. He has thus rejected all causes except his own. Louisa is a woman with a cause par excellence. She distrusts men on principle and, understandably, distrusts Sinclair and the feelings he arouses in her. Perhaps only a rake could have possessed the skill to change her mind about relations between the sexes. Both hero and heroine have been deeply wounded and they need each other’s qualities to become whole once again.

The “flowers” -- all of Louisa’s protégés have taken new names like Violet or Rose -- provide moments of comic relief as they try to maneuver their benefactress into Sinclair’s arms. And there is a sweet secondary romance between David and one of the “flowers.”

I must admit that I occasionally found the writing distracting. Putnam “cuts” between scenes, shifting suddenly from Sinclair and Louisa to David and Violet and back again. The transitions seemed abrupt at times.

Never Trust a Rake succeeded for the most part in holding my interest. I liked the hero; he was a bit out of the ordinary. I found Louisa occasionally strident and unsympathetic, but zealots tend to have that effect on me. Her reactions, given her history, made sense even if her actions did not.

Despite its good features, Never Trust a Rake left me shaking rather than nodding my head. If your implausibility quotient is higher than mine, you may enjoy it more than I did.

--Jean Mason

@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home