The Gentleman Thief
Grade : A

Need a laugh? Need a pick-me-up? Have I got the book for you. Deborah Simmons newest, The Gentleman Thief has the light frothy appeal of traditional Regency Romance with the extra advantage of some very warm love scenes. It's a kind of a 19th century screwball comedy with a ditsy-but-tenacious heroine and an appealing Remington Steele-esque hero. I laughed from the first page, not only at the charming repartee between the hero and heroine, but at the many clever twists and turns the story takes.

While trying to eavesdrop on some "suspicious" characters at a private party, Georgina Bellewether, our gloriously curvaceous, but clumsy, heroine, falls into the dashing Marquis of Ashdowne, tumbling him to the ground. Not long after this, a theft is disclosed. A daring jewel thief has stolen a diamond necklace from the hostess. Georgina, who harbors the dream of someday becoming a famous crime sleuth, volunteers to investigate the case. Lord Ashdowne, who by this time has been felled by Georgina repeatedly (once into a potted plant and then into the orchestra) steps forward, offering his services as her assistant.

Although Georgina initially suspects Ashdowne himself of the crime, she soon puts these thoughts aside and allows him to assist her. Since Ashdowne is the only person who has ever taken her seriously, this is hardly surprising. Georgina's suspects do not seem promising, and include the local vicar, Mr. Hawkins, and Lord Whalsley, a middle-aged viscount in search of a rich wife. Together Georgina and Ashdowne go in search of the thief. This search takes them into the vicarage, over roof tops, into public baths and even a brothel. I can't tell you much more but that what they find out about their suspects had me roaring with laughter.

Though readers may initially think that Georgina is too stupid to live, she is really a sort of smart dumb blonde (a la Judy Holliday). Georgina says things that sound silly but eventually turn out to be true, or at least to have some basis in fact. Her two suspects, for example, really do have guilty secrets, though they may not be the ones you expect.

Georgina's real problem is that her admirers have a hard time thinking about anything but her figure. She describes herself as "a victim of my gender." Take her conversation with the hapless Mr. Nichols, an admirer, who cannot stop looking at her chest "He paid no attention to what she was saying of course, and, at times like these, Georgina was often tempted to whisper of insurrection, or murder, in an effort to jolt her audience into awareness."

Lord Ashdowne is in some ways a typical Regency hero, except that he is even more attractive and more inventive than most. A second son who expected to live a carefree life, he is bored with the title, and the responsibilities that go with it. He is intrigued from the start with Georgina and her adventurous spirit. As Georgina's assistant, Ashdowne proves invaluable, fortuitously knowing how to scale roofs, pick locks and dress for night missions. Ashdowne's attraction to Georgina is convincing from his first smile. There's a lot of genuine chemistry between these two, and although the love scenes are not graphically described, they feel warmer than the rating would imply.

Almost as much fun as the hero and heroine, are the host of secondary characters including Wilson Jeffries, the disappointingly ordinary man who is a Bow Street Runner, Bertrand who is Georgina's younger brother and a useless chaperone and Finn, Ashdowne's Irish majordomo and friend.

I smiled from the first page of The Gentleman Thief. Not only is it witty, romantic and funny, it is beautifully written. It's the kind of deceptively simple story that seems as though it would be easy to write but is rare because it is not. I read this book in manuscript form but I'm planning to buy a copy as soon as it's out. When I do that with a book, I know it's a keeper.

Reviewed by Robin Uncapher
Grade : A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : December 2, 1999

Publication Date: 2000

Review Tags: funny

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