Master of Disguise
When a story doesn’t work for me I’ll try to make excuses. I can tell myself “It just wasn’t a genre I prefer” or “I wasn’t in the mood for that story right now.” Either way I’ll give the book and author the benefit of the doubt and pull my punches. Unfortunately there is no way to talk about Master of Disguise without being perfectly blunt about how bad it is.
Let’s start with Count Aldric Bradawulf, a man who kind-of puts the word “ick” in slick. Aldric is a wealthy Austrian noble who has his fingers in business, politics and the occasional covert spy operation (in his spare time of course). During a mission one year earlier, Aldric met Deidre Townsend when he was disguised as a lowly British butler infiltrating her father’s household in North Carolina. Super-secret spy stuff ensued, the bad guys were captured and Aldric left Deidre with only a few kisses to remember him by (Yes, the backstory was pretty vague in the book). Yet of course, with only those few kisses to convince him, Aldric knows that Deidre is the perfect choice to be his future Countess. Over the next twelve months Aldric goes back to North Carolina several times in a variety of disguises to watch over Deidre (without letting anyone know – naturally) until the time is right to approach her as his true self.
That time comes on the heels of Deidre’s twin sister’s wedding day. Left in charge of her sister’s secret lab (where she’s developing a rocket fuel to take tourists into space!) Deidre becomes the target of a trifecta of criminals from Russia, Germany and a corrupt CIA agent. But they aren’t the worst of Deidre’s problems! She’s also managed to run afoul of a local hillbilly cop who’s abusing the puppies sired by her sister’s guard dog. Deidre makes a plan to steal the puppies and their mother from their owner and go into hiding until any criminal charges can be dropped against her. Aldric, disguised once again as the butler, has arrived to protect Deidre against the criminals but helps her in her plans to save the dogs before shuttling her off to his castle for safety’s sake. Once in Austria Aldric begins his wooing campaign by disguising himself again, this time as a kindly old lady, to convince Deidre to forget about the butler she loves and give the handsome Count Bradawulf a chance.
To say that this book is a ridiculous collection of spy tropes and characters would be an understatement. Aldric is supposed to be some kind of a mix between James Bond, Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible, and Mrs. Doubtfire?! I was absolutely laughing in all the wrong places thinking of this suave, calculating man in a female fat suit trying to get a girl to fall in love with him (without having met the ‘real him’ yet). Deidre’s sister – who runs around the entire story in motorcycle leathers and a huge chip on her shoulder – is as convincing a genius as Denise Richards was playing a nuclear physicist. In other words, not at all. Deidre is unfortunately your basic Mary-Sue character. Her wholesome Southern charm supposedly hides great courage and an iron backbone, yet she is simple enough to fall in love with Aldric in his many guises after only knowing him for a day or so. The absolute worst moment in the book is most likely supposed to be its most romantic. Aldric comes to Diedre as himself for the first time and manages to grope, fondle and basically assault her in a manner of minutes and she’s swooning. Give me a break!
From a quick glance at Ms. Phelps’ author blog I learned that Master of Disguise took the long road to release after some publisher problems. I wish she had used that time to revisit her manuscript to work out the plotting or better develop the relationship between Aldric and Deidre past their mutual lust. Buried under some bad story choices there may have been a good book but there isn’t enough to entice a reader to look for that subtext. No matter how exciting it is supposed to be with its international intrigue and romantic settings, nothing really clicks in the story and I was hard pressed to even finish it.