Ghost Moon



The Midnight Hour

Paradise County



The Senator's Wife

To Trust a Stranger


by Karen Robards
(Gallery Books, $25, R)  ISBN 978-0-74341-061-8
Though whether the book is a shameless attempt to milk a popular market or an honest one to keep her readers from dangling, the third Banning sisters book (the first was published in 2001 and the second in 2003) kinda makes one wonder why you would – or did – bother with the others.

Elizabeth Banning would be the first to admit that she's on the outrageous side.  This is well-portrayed in the London scenes; Elizabeth does nothing but flirt and bat her eyelashes and encourage gentlemen to fall all over themselves to get to her.  In a way, she enjoys the fact that, though not a pariah, she is becoming a social wild card, a liability.  See, Elizabeth, because of a somewhat mysterious background (one would assume this is a little more hashed out in Irresistible and Scandalous), refuses to marry.  Really, her two previous engagements and the one she's trying to break off were screens more than anything else.

Her latest beau, however, won't be put off with a "we won't suit." In fact, he tries to rape her in her sister's – a duchess! – home during the ball where he planned to announce their betrothal. Elizabeth, true to her nature, clocks him.  As she's trying to gather her wits, she discovers a strange man in the room with her.  Though his appearance is questionable to say the least, she enlists his aid in getting the man out of the house and to his own home.  She prays that embarrassment will be the end of it.

Neil Severin is recently back from the continent and knows he's next in line for being killed.  As the most successful assassin in the government's employ, he was rudely brought into the knowledge that he'd gotten too good at his job. Now, in an attempt to save his own skin, Neil must kill Elizabeth's brother-in-law, who happens to be the only person left in the world who knows Neil's true identity.

When Elizabeth's predicament brings his plans crumbling down around his ears, Neil adjusts. He decides to kidnap Elizabeth for a ransom instead.  Unfortunately for both of them, someone beats him to it.  His future – his life – at stake, Neil desperately tracks Elizabeth to an old fortress on an island in the Channel.  He knows what that will mean for him in either scenario, one where he returns Elizabeth and one where he doesn't. Neil even knows what kinds of ungodly things go on in this castle. What he doesn't know is that Elizabeth Banning, most shameless of the scandalous Banning sisters, isn't going to play to his tune anymore than she has anyone else's.  Or that, because of her very nature, she will bring out his own, which he had buried many years before.

Two years ago, Karen Robards put out a romantic suspense called Guilty, and the first two hundred pages of that one dragged so bad I almost put the thing down and gave up. Readers will likely recognize the feeling when they're plodding through Shameless. Although the plotline should excite – kidnapping, escape, ransoms, assassins – every bit of momentum is wasted on detail after detail of stuff no one cares about.  Too many characters are introduced (I like a lot of characters, and still by the end of the book I had no idea who at least four of them were), and the two main characters were not fleshed-out enough.  Why were Neil and Elizabeth who they were, the way they were?  Vague ideas are given, but nothing that's ever really brought to fruition.

In fact, I found Elizabeth's crotchety Aunt Augusta to be the most interesting part of the novel. Too bad, since she was only in about three scenes.

All in all, and as I believe previous reviewers have said about the other two books in the trilogy, Robards ought to just stick to romantic suspense (Guilty aside).  Shameless may be something historical romance readers will trouble themselves with once it's in paperback, but in the meantime, leave the hardcover at the store.

--Sarrah Knight

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