The Shocking Miss Shaw
by Justine Wittich
(Five Star, $26.95, PG) ISBN 0-7862-4767-3
**
The Shocking Miss Shaw is a disappointment right from the front cover, which looks like a James Bond movie poster set in the 1880’s, as drawn by a twelve-year-old. Unconvincing characters and a headstrong heroine who raises foolish behavior to an art form make this a memorable read - but for all the wrong reasons.

Miss Sierra Shaw is on her way to England to solve a mystery. Sierra’s beloved stepmother, Melanie, is being blackmailed, and by an unlikely source - her late husband, Geoffrey Trowbridge. Upon his death in a riverboat explosion, his wife found herself the owner of five hundred shares in an English railroad, which everyone presumed were worthless. Now a letter has arrived from London, in Geoffrey’s handwriting, demanding the shares back or he will expose Melanie as a bigamist and ruin her new husband’s Senate career.

Sierra’s father is a wealthy miner from Nevada, newly arrived in Congress. Apparently without his knowledge, Sierra decides to travel to London and pass herself off as a title-hunting heiress, looking to land a Lord. While she’s there, she’ll investigate and find out if Geoffrey really wrote the letter. But Sierra won’t travel alone, of course. With her is Delores, a half-Shoshoni woman who is nominally Sierra’s aunt, and Caleb Lonetree, her groom and childhood friend.

As the ship nears England, Sierra makes the acquaintance of Fitzhugh Kent, a man who seems skeptical of Sierra’s title-hunting act. In actuality, Fitz is a minor spy for the British government, and his father may have been murdered by none other than Geoffrey Trowbridge. He is alternately annoyed and fascinated by Miss Shaw, of course.

Which was a better reaction to her than I had. Sierra is a kitchen-sink sort of character. Because she was raised in Nevada, she can ride like the wind, hunt, shoot, swear, and probably dig her own gold mine. Of course. Plus she’s beautiful, and wealthy, and ostensibly smart enough to find a blackmailer. The problem is, she does stupid things like going off at night around London dressed in buckskins and moccasins, hunting for criminals and breaking into houses and such. She gets herself into trouble so many times and needs to be rescued by Fitz so many times, that one begins to wonder if she really knows which end of a horse points forward, much less how she ever made it out of Nevada. Sierra basically ends up a cartoon character, and a supremely irritating one at that.

Fitz fares somewhat better, because he at least is intelligent enough to know dangerous behavior when he sees it. He continually comes to Sierra’s aid, and in between his irritation at her hijinks, he also begins to fall for her. This is problematic. In one paragraph, Fitz is mentally cursing her for her unthinking behavior, and in the next, he’s admiring her for her adventurous spirit. It made their attraction feel superficial at best.

The suspense thread is done fairly well, and readers will be strung along quite adequately. But at $26.95, The Shocking Miss Shaw is no bargain for romance lovers. If you like your heroines to come equipped with a strong dash of common sense, approach this one with caution.

--Cathy Sova


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