13 April, 2012

Review: Blame It On Bath by Caroline Linden

Oh, Gerard de Lacey, I kind of hate you.

Everything negative I say from this part forward is totally about my reading preferences and not about how Linden assembles her books. Well, except for a few things. Ok, mostly everything negative I say from this point forward will ... just write your own disclaimer. Linden turns in a decent book. She's brave enough to discard the more annoying recent genre conventions (no near death episodes, no nonsensical coach chases) to focus on giving her characters depth. Since she can't win for losing, aspects of that depth are entirely my problem with Blame It On Bath.

Let's start with Gerard. He's your basic good hearted fraternity brother. Soldier by day, lover by night, he responds to the possible disinheritance of his family with a completely understandable "Oh crap, what about me?" panic. As a man of action (So far the brothers appear to be Uptight Dude, Responsible Pledge and Charlie Sheen) Gerard is going to track a blackmailer down with his own two hands. The need for secrecy is over! (Except later he decides it isn't.) He's going to turn England upside down to discover the truth, but first he has to find out what this chick in the cloak wants. And thus we meet Katherine, who presents herself to Gerard as a winning lottery ticket.

Katherine infuriates me. Both she and Gerard have a habit of treating their trusted personal servants as serfs. When Gerard's man first meets Katherine he says something like "She's a lady..." to which Gerard immediately snaps "...and that's all you ever need to say about her." I think Linden is trying to show that Gerard is already protective of Katherine but he comes across as a complete tool. For her part Katherine has a personal servant that has been with her from infancy. I think her name is Birdie. Anyway, Birdie has an inheritance from Katherine's father meant to make her a woman of independent means so that Birdie can continue to devote her life to Katherine even if Katherine's first husband fires her. Birdie does anything Katherine wants and shines rainbow glitter everywhere she turns. Of course the moment Birdie expresses any concern about anything Katherine snaps at her, at one point telling her to remember her place. These may be servants in a more limited time, but they are people with options. People with self respect. People who are good at their jobs and could be forgiven for packing their bags and stranding Mr. & Mrs. Self Important at a moment's notice. Making Katherine's attitude toward Birdie even more egregious is the set up for our heroine.

Put on a timeline, it makes my head hurt but here we go. Before Katherine's father became rich but after Katherine's titled mother married him for his cash, Katherine was walking down the street in the rain and Gerard gave her a ride home. It was the only kindness anyone (but her father) had ever shown her (but Birdie) so of course she promptly fell in love with him. Ok. Katherine age 30 is 2 years older  than Gerard's 28. This encounter happens before she marries her mildly abusive first husband, so how old is Katherine to be shopping without a chaperone, and thus how old is Gerard to be riding about rescuing wet damsels? And will Train A reach the station first if Train B is pulling circus cars? Anyway, so yes. Katherine is going to propose marriage to a man she once met in the street because she fell in love with him after he gave her a ride home when they were of uncertain age to be wandering the streets.

Katherine is a Daddy's Girl and a widow worth a bajillion dollars. She can assert herself enough against her controlling mother and erstwhile suitor to meet with her attorney and discuss her inheritance, she can sneak out in the middle of the night and propose to Gerard, but she can't buy a small cottage and retire? No. Katherine is the sort of woman who needs a man to run her life for her. The parts of the book where Gerard and Katherine come to know each other are charming, but they are undercut by the set up for their marriage. Of course Gerard treats the wife that fell into his lap like a Powerball Jackpot casually. He's clothed her, housed her and rescued her. Why would he talk to her? Katherine makes some friends, throws some jealous fits and then runs off with the mother she hates because gosh golly gee willikers that will show him.

And it does.

Gerard freaks out that Katherine isn't there to adore him with meager cause. He drops everything that was motivating his life to that point so he can rush to her side. Look, we knew the mystery was going for all three books. I'm just not thrilled that Gerard transitioned from a guy who would tackle the 1810 version of Hoarders in his quest for justice to the guy who says "Well, this really is my brother's problem so he can fix it." (No wonder Charlie never gets upset when his brothers stress out over the latest crisis - they can't be arsed to finish anything.) Gerard stops caring about being cast out of society as a bastard the minute he realizes his wife can be self destructively pissy. Why worry about their children's future when they can make some?  In Gerard's defense he has (via Katherine) almost certainly proven his legitimacy, moving the mystery of the next book from are-they-or-are-they-not to who-hates-Charlie-Sheen-and-why? I don't know about Charlie, but I know who hates Katherine. This girl. Me. Right here. I do. She and Gerard are perfect for each other since needy, dependent and moody appears to be his type.

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