What is it with 19th century Americans who show up in romance novels? They talk about sex to English virgins. In watching Bostonian hero Marshall MacDougal take advantage of heroine Sarah Palmer I felt like an elementary teacher who asks the naughty little boy, “Does your mother let you talk like that at home?”
As The Troublemaker opens, Miss Sarah Palmer is on her very last chance. During her Season in London she has come perilously close to ruining herself with a fortune hunter. Sarah’s family is sending her to Scotland to live with a half-sister and the idea is for this impetuous girl to have some quiet time away from society and temptation. Of course, with a title like The Troublemaker, we know that it’s just a matter of time until Sarah gets herself into a difficult situation. On the journey to Scotland, Sarah meets an American, Marshall MacDougal. She is immediately attracted but resolves to avoid him and temptation. But, it turns out that Marshall’s destination is the same town to which she is traveling. Once there, Sarah learns that Marshall’s purpose in Scotland is to find proof of his parents’ marriage. This proof will reveal that Sarah’s step-father had committed bigamy and that her step-sister is no longer entitled to her estate. She resolves to stop Marshall from finding and/or revealing this terrible truth.
It soon becomes clear to the reader why Sarah’s family was so concerned about her judgment. When Sarah arrives at her half-sister’s house, she is accidentally left without a chaperone. This woman does the stupidest things! She calls on Marshall alone, at a public inn. She takes carriages by herself to towns to check on his investigation of his parentage. Strangely enough it is quite believable because Sarah’s character is well established. Yes, Sarah is a believable nitwit.
Since it is small town, Sarah meets Marshall repeatedly. Soon she begins to track his actions and to pursue him. Every time they meet, Marshall tells Sarah that she is lusting after him and hiding a sensuous nature. (Coming from sexually liberated Boston perhaps he is unaware that this is unacceptable?) The dialogue between the two sometimes reminded me of a soap opera and often had me laughing. Here is an example:
Bring on the organ music!
“I thought for a short while that you were she, my half sister. But you are not, Sarah Palmer. We are free to explore the desire that seethes between us, even though it is fueled of hatred and distrust.” She shoved at his chest but he only tightened his grip. “Do you deny it?”
“Yes, let me go. You dreadful cad. You horrible bastard.”
In short, neither Sarah nor Marshall appealed to me very much as people. Sarah never seems to think anything through. Is Marshall telling the truth about his parentage or is he lying? What will she do if he gets the proof of his parentage? Of course, she has no idea what she will do, but she follows him anyway. It makes no difference to Sarah. Marshall is no better. His idea of lovemaking is selfish and close to rape. He cares nothing for Sarah’s reputation or her future.
Despite all of this, The Troublemaker does have a few redeeming qualities. When Sarah is initially introduced, her foolish behavior with the fortune hunter is believable and it was nice to read about a heroine who was not too perfect. In these opening pages, Sarah reminds the reader of a lot of silly girls who have good hearts but let their emotions rule their actions. So far so good for about the first hundred pages, but then Sarah turned from silly to stupid, Marshall turned disgusting and it rapidly fell apart.
A good opening alone doesn’t make a good book and I can’t recommend this one. I’ve heard some good things about Rexanne Becnel; sorry, but I can’t add to that discussion.