When I first finished reading this book, I decided I’d give it no lower a grade than C. But reflection leads me to concede that this book worked hard for the D I’m finally awarding it.
Grayson St. Cyre, Baron Cliffe, is invaded by his two dotty aunts and their “valet” Jack, who turns out to be a young lady, Winifrede Levering Bascombe. She’s on the lam from her stepfather; that gentleman wants to marry her off to a certified lecher so the two men can divide her inheritance. Can you spot this marriage of convenience coming a mile off?
The first time Gray meets Jack (also called Freddie), he socks her, kicks her in the ribs, and throws her against a wall, then chases her into the rainy night. Here is where Coulter works in one of her most tired plot devices, the reluctant hero nursing the heroine through an illness (didn’t we take this trip with Douglas and Alex Sherbrooke in The Sherbrooke Bride?). They come back to London, Gray gets the whole story of who Jack is and why she’s running away, and determines that they must marry. A short, attempted kidnapping later, and they are leg-shackled.
There follows one of the most unusual defloration scenes I can ever remember coming across – in a moving carriage, and the coitus is definitely interruptus, by the evil lech, no less. The newlyweds return to Jack’s home, where Gray is able to psych Jack’s stepfather into allowing them to take Georgie, Jack’s half-sister, with them. That’s all Jack’s wanted all along, anyway.
Nothing else in the book mattered after that. There are a couple of subplots involving Gray’s friends, the Sherbrookes; don’t ask me why they’re here, other than to annoy. If Coulter thought to use them as a hook to get the reader interested, it didn’t work – at least not in my case. These people were singularly unpleasant (and the author’s fixation with “magnificent breasts” has always bothered me).
Mad Jack is replete with senseless, inane dialogue, and the characters all seem to talk in stream-of-consciousness. And they never shut up! One of the cardinal rules of solid writing is, “Show, don’t tell.” An equally important one is, “Do it, don’t talk it to death.”
The real pity is that at the heart of all this mess is a good story. A good story, ruined by being told badly. By the end of the book the only one Mad was this reviewer.