Wicked Lies by Laura Renken
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-13403-1
Although Wicked Lies is an interesting read and Ms. Renken is a talented writer, it also contains a lot of backtracking. The backtracking gives the story a rushed feel - almost as if the author was trying to meet a deadline and didn't have time to do much re-writing.

The book's setting is Yorktown, Virginia, 1772. Catherine Bellamy's husband of five months was recently murdered and the printing press for her newspaper was badly damaged, effectively putting her out of business. Catherine believes her younger brother, Daniel Claremont, knows more than he is telling about the incident.

Catherine has written to her husband's half brother, Julian Reece Lambert, an English earl, but she hasn't had a reply to her letters. Although Catherine has never met Julian, she dislikes him because he never bothered to attend his own brother's wedding.

But times are difficult for Catherine and she must provide for her stepmother and her younger siblings. In order to start her paper again, she is going to have put aside her personal feelings and ask Julian for help.

Julian is an English earl, but he is also the colonial rebel known as Merlin. Julian hated his father and has no great love for England. The best man he ever knew was his stepfather, a Bostonian who loved him and taught Julian to be a man along with his younger brother Patrick.

Julian has learned that Patrick has been killed, but he is completely unaware of the fact that Patrick had married. Julian wants the man or men who killed his brother. Disguised as Merlin, he arranges to meet a man named Daniel Claremont. But Daniel gets drunk and Catherine takes it upon herself to deliver the letter he was supposed to pass along to Merlin. The meeting turns out to be a trap and both Catherine and Julian are arrested. Julian isn't sure whether to believe Catherine when she says she knew nothing of the setup to catch Merlin. And because they are chained together they must escape together.

After escaping and spending a passionate night with each other, Catherine decides she must leave Merlin and return home before she is missed. A few months later she boards Julian's boat looking for her brother-in-law. Julian's persona and accent are very different from Merlin and Catherine doesn't recognize him as the man she spent a passionate night with.

There is a lot to like in Wicked Lies: the time period, the intelligent hero and heroine and a number of interesting secondary characters. I did have a bit of a hard time believing Catherine wouldn't instantly recognize Julian as Merlin, but the author made it somewhat plausible. However, it would have been even more believable if the disguise Julian uses as Merlin had been noted and commented upon sometime around Catherine and Merlin's first meeting.

As written, when Catherine goes to meet Julian I'm certain that she is going to recognize him. But she doesn't and readers are told it is because of Julian's Merlin disguise and the changes he has made to his appearance and speaking voice.

To me, this was the major problem with this book: too many times the author would throw in a sentence or two explaining things I felt should have been explained to begin with. Another example is Catherine's first marriage. Readers are told Catherine is a recent widow and we subsequently learn that she loved her husband. Yet she has a sexual encounter with Merlin/Julian just a few months after the death of her husband.

Toward the end of the story, readers find out more information about Catherine’s marriage. Then Catherine's prior behavior and subsequent behavior makes more sense.

All the backtracking made WickedLiesfeel rushed. And this is the primary reason I can't recommend what otherwise is a good story.

--Judith Flavell

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