A Wicked Liaison
The premise of A Wicked Liaison was interesting enough, but it quickly became the slowest 200 pages of my life. Somewhere along the way, the hero became too immature to be interesting, and the heroine badly needed some spice in her character.
Constance Townley is the Dowager Duchess of Wellford. Ever since her elderly husband died, her idiot nephew has become the head of the household and is making her life a financial misery. She has barely enough money to live on, and is pinching pennies wherever she can. Her only option is to marry again, but so far, all men want from her thirty-year-old self is a sexual affair and not marriage. There is Barton, a man who does want to marry her, but he has a sinister aura about him, and Connie doesn’t trust him.
Anthony Smythe is a thief-cum-spy for the British government and it just so happens that Barton is suspected of counterfeiting money. When Tony is briefed on his mission, he is very pained to hear that Constance has been linked to Barton. When Tony was a young boy, he was training to be a pastor and worshiped Connie from afar. He’s maintained a passion for her and cannot believe that she would willingly consort with such slime. One evening he sneaks into her room, only to be caught by her. They talk for a little while, and Connie finds herself strangely comfortable with this mysterious thief. They exchange a kiss, and begin an affair that both know cannot last.
At first I thought Connie was refreshingly unique. Because she is thirty and childless, her apparent inability to procreate is a very real problem for potential husbands. Her dilemma in finding a willing man is more realistic and one I hadn’t really considered before in a Regency. Unfortunately, she comes off as so boring and stodgy that I eventually lost interest in her predicament. Her relationship with Tony seems like a fluke. She is too properly indignant at Barton’s blackmailing tendencies, and understandably wary towards life in general. She is so caught up in being cautious that she seems too matronly and mature for Tony.
Tony, on the other hand, is the puppy-eyed hero. He has unrealistic expectations of Connie and is strangely schizophrenic – one minute he’s a man and an efficient spy and the next he’s a whining little boy. One moment he’s grinning his head off, the next he’s moody and sullen. He expects Connie to remember him from their childhood, although it is ridiculous to hope that she would. He’s always complaining to his valet, really more of a trusty sidekick who ineffectively tries to beat some sense into his master. Tony keeps telling Connie about how he’s loved a mystery woman from afar, how he’s completely devoted to her (nudge nudge), but Connie never catches onto the fact that he’s speaking of her – and rightly so. When she understandably shies away from committing herself to him – since he is supposedly so in love with this other woman – he’s bewildered and hurt by her lack of reciprocal affection. Basically, he’s a young idiot.
The villain, Barton, was ultimately the only thing that kept me turning the pages. He is devious and very irritatingly successful in his schemes (although I don’t know if this is a testament to his evil or simply the stupidity of the hero). With the laughable way he is so neatly disposed of, I don’t think the author does him justice at all. I can tell this guy has much more fight in him than she gives him credit for.
A Wicked Liaison definitely does not lead up to its title. In fact, it’s the most wholesome liaison I’ve read about in a long while. It’s hard to generate much feeling towards the story. It’s not horrifically bad, but it’s not great.