The Unflappable Miss Fairchild
by Regina Scott
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-5872-1
****
I'm awarding this Regency romance four hearts on the basis of three things: its very likeable hero and heroine, its humor, and most especially one laugh-out-loud scene that stars one of the more outstanding examples of "bad" writing since the Bad Hemingway contest folded. Had it not been for that scene, I probably would have rated this three hearts because this book is not without its faults including a plot that fizzles after a strong beginning and the ubiquitous Big Misunderstanding based on the heroine's jumping to an unwarranted, erroneous conclusion and not letting the hero have his say.

Chas Prestwick is a younger son whose brother is the current earl. He's gorgeous, he's wild, he's a lady-killer. He does crazy things like try to better race times when his own carriage breaks down. Mothers with marriageable daughters consider him quite unsuitable.

Anne Fairchild is steady, dependable, with very ordinary looks. She and her two aunts are in London for the sole purpose of marrying her off, and her Aunt Agatha is determined that nothing less than an earl will do. Chas Prestwick does not qualify.

Anne first meets Chas at a party when his soon-to-be-ex-lover threatens to cause a scene that will ruin what little reputation he has left. Anne's calm reaction defuses the situation and impresses Chas. Fate decrees that the two of them will soon be encountering each other frequently and in the most unlikely locations. Anne discovers that Chas's adventurous personality is most appealing, and she is attracted to the man her aunt refuses to let her receive.

Anne has three worthless suitors. (I never could figure out why Aunt Agatha would permit these losers to court her niece but bar Chas.) One of the considers himself a poet and is featured at a poetry-reading soiree. This scene must have been hoot to write; it certainly is to read. The wannabe poet strikes a dramatic pose then delivers his "Ode to One Most Necessary."

"Were I to lose my most pertinent goods Or allow the taking of my organs For those stuffs of which cannibals make foods...."

You'll have to get the book to read the rest and find out who is considered "Most Necessary." (You've probably guessed it's not our heroine.)

Chas and Anne are clearly meant for each other. She loves his vitality; he loves her integrity.

So why is Aunt Agatha objecting? Anne's other suitors are clearly no prize, and Chas is the only brother and heir of an unmarried earl. Why doesn't Anne stand up to her aunt? Why doesn't anyone stand up to Aunt Agatha?

At this point the lively plot gets bogged down with unnecessary dark secrets and bitchy other woman machinations. Anne starts jumping to stupid conclusions and spending a lot of time crying. It's so out of character and so disappointing: Anne was better when she was unflappable. The book was too.

The amusing final scene is a return to the previous tone of the book. For readers in a hurry, I recommend reading the first half of the book and the final scene. They're worth your time.

--Lesley Dunlap


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