REVIEW: Never Trust a Scoundrel by Gayle Callen
Dear Ms. Callen:
I really liked Viscount in Her Bedroom. I appreciate that you try to tackle some serious problems. Viscount featured a blind hero. This one tried to tackle too many issues: gambling, blackmail, a girl who flirts too much, the devastated mother who shuns society, grief, etc. Ultimately, my real problem was the hero.
Grace Banbury’s family is in financial dire straights. Her mother and brother have serious gambling problems to the point that all of their property is gambled away except for Grace’s dowry. Grace goes to London to seek out her brother and see if there can’t be something done to save the Banbury family when she meets Daniel Throckmorten. Daniel has won the deed to her family’s London townhome in a game with her mother along with a valuable violen. Daniel and Grace enter into a wager where Daniel has two weeks to seduce Grace, because he can seduce anyone.
Let me be honest here. Is there anything heroic or even sexy about a man who intends to ruin a woman’s life by making her a whore just because he can? Because of an instant uncontrollable lust? I’m supposed to cheer for this guy? Daniel isn’t presented as a true scoundrel even. He has had a mistress for the past three years. He wasn’t rejected by the ton. His cousin was a duke. He was accepted everywhere. He was even shown to be such as good guy that he felt his last mistress was hurt that he didn’t love her.
I know that title refers to a Scoundrel and Daniel was supposedly one, but he is a beloved scoundrel. He enjoys his scandalous reputation but could throw it off in a second. This was a cake character. On the one hand, you want the hero to be bad and on the other, heroic. But honestly, he was a true scoundrel with all the negative connotations a person should attach to a scoundrel. Daniel is determined to seduce an impoverished society girl who, if she marries, will access a nice dowry, but if he is successful will make her a whore, a prostitute, an outcast of society. A pariah. After the hero is done with her, if she cannot find a new protector, will she die diseased in the streets? These are the desires and acts of a villian, not a beloved scoundrel. Cake and eat it too.
Grace’s response to Daniel is immediately to accept his wager except she hates gambling (likes flirting, but hates gambling). She doesn’t want to be married for anything but love even though her family is impoverished and her only way out was to marry and access her dowry. So she risks the one marketable thing she has – her reputation. She tries to play a deep game with him by bringing him into society (which never really rejected him) and thus make him redeemable. But that wasn’t the wager. The wager was to resist the seduction. So why put yourself in places where you could be seduced? Why not take yourself back to your mother and sit home for two weeks knitting a scarf? The whole setup is sloppy and reeks of implausibility.
The motivation didn’t fit the outcome. I think the story was trying to play a deeper game but the heroine wasn’t sophisticated enough to pull it off. She was a young country miss who liked to flirt too much. She wasn’t a deep thinker or a strategist so her machinations seemed clumsy rather than swift and smooth. She was no match for a debauched scoundrel.
Where is the redemptory path? There is none because the hero and heroine never contemplate that his bargain is really repulsive. Instead it is treated as some delicious treat. None of the themes worked together. The only redemptive path was given to the heroine’s brother who overcame his love for the wager because of the love of a good woman. If the heroine was going to fly in the face of convention she needed to address it and make the reader understand why ruining herself as worth it. D.