The Naked Viscount
“Excitement shivered up her spine. She had to get her hands on that penis.”
When the first chapter of a book ends like that, chances are you are either reading a guilty pleasure or a total disaster. The Naked Viscount is more the former than the latter, but be warned: In order to enjoy this book at all, you will need a high tolerance for the ridiculous. You will not so much need to suspend your disbelief as drug it and stuff it in a closet somewhere. If you can do that, and you don’t mind channeling your inner junior high schooler (so you can appreciate the abundant penis humor), then you might find it something of a guilty pleasure too.
Lady Jane Parker-Roth is in her eighth season, and firmly on the shelf as far as most people are concerned. She’s always had a bit of a tendre for Emdund Smyth, a viscount and friend of her brothers. But she’s pretty sure he doesn’t know she exists. That all changes one night when she comes down to the library to get a book (in her nightgown, natch, because her wrapper is in convenient need of laundering) and finds Edmund in her library. He’s there because he is on a mission (I never really got who he was working for, but it doesn’t really matter) to retrieve a mysterious sketch featuring French spies, which is supposed to be hidden somewhere on the premises. Jane and Edmund get in a bit of a scuffle, during which Jane upsets a sculpture of Pan with a very erect penis, which falls to the floor and shatters. They subsequently enjoy a little romantic interlude, then discover that the statue has part of the sketch in it.
The gist of the plot is this: London’s underworld is ruled by a guy nicknamed Satan, who has his hand in every illegal pot and knows everyone’s secrets. Clarence Widmore (the man in whose home Jane is living) knew Satan’s identity, and drew a sketch of him surrounded by members of the ton, all doing scandalous things. He tore the sketch in four pieces, which he secreted in four different Pan statues hidden in the city. Widmore then died under questionable circumstances. The sketches are all in the penises, mostly so there can be a lot of penis jokes. So basically, Edmund and Jane run hither and yon searching for penis statues, both so horny all the while that they can scarcely manage to perform the simplest of tasks without thinking about sex. Edmund in particular suffers greatly, and can barely go about in polite company because of his near-constant hard-on.
Now lest you think I am above penis humor. I’ll come clean and admit to laughing much of the time. This book is silly from start to finish, but that’s part of its charm – kind of like a Fletch movie, but with way more penises. The premise is, as I said, both unbelievable and ridiculous. But it’s also a little fun – and it’s certainly not something you see every day.
The characterization is not what I’d call deep, but both Jane and Edmund are perfectly likable. They are actually more than a little cute, and well-suited for each other. Their relationship is more believable than the world they inhabit.
There are a couple of things that take the book into C territory. The first is, ironically enough, that it takes Edmund and Jane way too long to actually have sex. If everything else is going to be so over the top ridiculous, it really seems like they should be doing it early and often – particularly given Edmund’s perpetual state of arousal. Because this part of the book is a bit off, it leads to problem number two, which is that there is a little too much penis-chasing at the expense of relationship building.
That said, the book is still almost so silly that it’s good. Not many C+ reads have me thinking about trying another by the author in question, but I’d read another Naked book in a heartbeat – if only to see what crazy idea Sally Mackenzie will come up with next.