A Touch of Sin
Susan Johnson is the only romance writer I’ve read who uses footnotes in her books. These are usually helpful and they were in this book too: they showed where this author must have made a wrong turn in writing this story.
In the footnotes, one reads that Johnson discovered a real couple, a young man and his aunt, who had a tumultuous affair. He was killed in an accident shortly thereafter and she had a baby as a result who was put into foster care. She remained in seclusion the rest of her life, mourning him, until her death at age 90. Tragic as this real story is, I would have preferred reading it to Johnson’s torturous reweaving of this story into a fictional one that ends happily.
As the story begins, we have Trixie, our heroine, who has survived her hateful husband, who is dead before the story begins. In this fictional version, Trixie is not related to her dead young lover. She has managed to hold onto her son, even though he is her dead lover’s child. Relatives from both her dead husband’s side and her late lover’s side besiege her, trying to toss her son into foster care so that he may never make a claim on their estates. The dead lover provides for this child in his will and the relatives try to circumvent it until they run afoul of Parisian legal proceedings.
Whether or not these acts were legal in France and Englad during the 1820’s is unclear to me. While I know it is not possibly in this day and this country to separate a child from his parent(s) and put him in foster care without cause (safety of the child) and without legal proceedings, men, especially wealthy men, wielded greater power over the plight of women and children in earlier days. What I do know is that laws generally strove to make children born of a married couple the legitimate issue of the mother’s legal husband, regardless of whether or not he was the actual father. Susan Johnson is known as a strong weaver of historical information in her romances, but in this instance what was legal and what could actually have happened was vague. I bring this up because the author spent an inordinate amount of time and space in A Touch of Sin in footnotes about other topics, but none were devoted to the actual basis of conflict in the story.
The hero of A Touch of Sin meets Trixie when he inadvertently rescues her from a murder scene which relates to the nefarious relatives trying to destroy her son. The hero is totally fictional, a wealthy Parisian libertine named Pasha. He and the heroine have a heated affair together which progresses for many, many pages (more than 100 ). There are many sexual scenes, none of which I found as inventive as Johnson normally is about sexual matters (although things do heat up later). Pasha has a mirror up over his bed but that’s as kinky as it gets. There is a lengthy footnote about Pasha’s chef and the French cuisine of the day which I found trivial in comparison to the legal items Johnson was skipping.
Pasha suddenly has to leave for Greece to help out Greek friends in their War for Independence. Why he is so committed to this cause is never adequately explained. There are plentiful footnotes about the Greek War even as to informing us as to Lord Byron’s role in it. It would have been nice if Byron had appeared in the narrative but he does not. I found most of the footnotes about this war confusing and I would have been interested in finding out more about the basic issues of it.
Trixie is forced to follow Pasha to Greece when her son’s relatives come after him. Once there, she is captured by a Turk who holds her hostage. The Turk wants Pasha to come rescue her and he can thus kill Pasha, his nemesis for many years. There follows a truly bizarre sexual sequence where Trixie drinks a whole carafe of liquor loaded with an aphrodisiac. This turns Trixie into a wild woman sexually and the Turk and his assistant use a giant dildo on her. Pasha, of course, rescues her handily from this situation even though he has to come through an entire camp of armed Turks with only one helper to do so. Then he gets mad at Trixie because she seemed to be enjoying herself! Naturally, they make it out of an armed enemy camp wholly unscathed because the Turks are notoriously poor marksmen, a whole camp of them!
I generally enjoy Susan Johnson’s books, such as Outlaw, Wicked and Brazen, but A Touch of Sin took real effort to finish and I cannot recommend it. My emotions were never involved in this book whereas in Johnson’s previous novels my emotions were engaged. In sum, I think she had an interesting story to tell about a real-life woman and her very real tragedy. Rewriting a happier version of this sad story was a mistake.