Until she read Sometimes A Rogue, Miss Bates’s only Putney novel was The Bargain, a revised version of the 1989 Would-Be Widow. It had a great premise, great first third or so … then, it all went to hell in a hand-basket. Sometimes A Rogue has its “problems,” i.e., the unique position of being peculiar and soporific. Much of it was … yes, boring. It comprises three, consecutive, not-well-executed narratives: with the same hero and heroine in strange mutations of their personalities over three contortions of the plot in one of the flattest-toned romance novels Miss Bates has ever read. Whew. More often than not, Sometimes A Rogue felt like Putney was assiduously following an outline, sketching in every scene: novel by fill-in-the-blanks, paint-by-number. Miss Bates had the same question at the end of Putney’s latest as she’d had at the end of one of her earliest: what happened here? Why did everything go so wrong in a book that had a modicum of potential?
In a tripartite summary, here’s what happens. In the first part, the heroine, Sarah Clarke-Townsend impersonates her twin, Mariah, to fool Irish kidnappers into nabbing her instead of pregnant and in-labour Mariah. Sarah, a sanguine sort, is excited by the idea of being kidnapped, seeing it as an adventure! You see, before being kidnapped by rapists and bloodthirsty bad guys, Sarah was unhappily “doomed to spinsterhood.” Pursed lips disapproval from Miss Bates: spinsterhood is not a “doom;” it’s a life choice and it suits many women just fine. Mariah’s husband, Adam, A Very Important Aristocrat, sends his friend and INTRIGUE! chum, Rob Carmichael, a Bow Street Runner, after Sarah, who’s been whisked off to Ireland. Rob and a frying pan rescue Sarah and they embark on the journey back to England. GREAT, thought Miss Bates, spinster-baiting aside, this is getting better: a road romance! Some of the stuff that happens in this bit are kinda interesting: there is a terrific storm at sea.
Alas, the fun ends in the second part. After the excitement of rescue and fighting the elements, they make landfall on a crumbling estate, Kellington. They discover … whoa … that Rob is the long-rejected lord of the manor. Wow, thought, Miss Bates, where will this take us!? Nowhere, apparently. The rest of the novel is about Rob learning to be lordly, addressing the wrongs that his dissipated father and brother visited on the tenants, etc. In the meantime, Rob and Sarah, who’s staying on at the manor till her family arrives, have forged a friendship, a strong one, but just a “friendship” they tell us over and over again. Because they’ve loved and lost in the past, this can’t be anything more. Except for the unmitigated lust they feel. For each other. Till they agree to marry; then, they marry and spend a lot of time figuring stuff out about the estate. It’s surprising how astute and cunning Sarah turns out to be in matters financial, considering what a ninny she is at the start. This financial savvy from a girl who says to her sister in the opening scene, “it’s in our blood to be beautiful.” :0
[SPOILERS AHEAD] In the third and shortest part, many many people show up at the door to foil Rob and his new-found identity. Really, this is like one of those sitcoms with the dingdong doorbell and various characters coming in and out. Dingdong: Rob’s long-lost daughter shows up! Dingdong: his deceased brother’s fiancé shows up and tries to seduce him, foiled by Sarah and their um “friendship.” Dingdong: some livestock shows up … really, chickens and cows and such. Until the bad Irish thugs show up and try to do away with Sarah and Rob, but they’re foiled by … no, not a frying pan, but something equally cool. [SPOILERS END]
There’s not much charisma to our hero and heroine. Oh, don’t get Miss Bates wrong, they’re nice people. They get along. They co-operate. They even play nice together, if you know what nudge-nudge-wink-wink Miss Bates means. They carry on civilized, affectionate conversations. They like and admire each other. Their attraction is healthily acknowledged and sensitively … um … executed. The baddies, on the other hand, are utter caricatures, leering, bad-teeth bad-breath, great unwashed nastiness. Nevertheless, the problem is that there no drama, no tension. Even the threatening nasties won’t have you gnawing any knuckles. Miss Bates barely sniffed into her sprigged hanky and never brought a hand to her spinster’s bosom, nor gave a gasp of delight, surprise, or shock.
Lastly, the writing is weak weak weak. Miss Bates sheepishly recognizes that Putney is on many DIK and 100 Best Romance Novels Ever lists, but this effort makes her wonder why. The dialogue and characters’ inner world are so flat. Everything is stated matter-of-factly. The dialogue’s phrasing is staccato. Here’s Adam, Mariah’s husband, overseeing the transport of his birthing wife at the door to his manor, greeting his friend, Rob, “Rob, Mariah’s sister, Sarah, has been kidnapped and someone needs to rescue her as soon as possible.” Does that sound like it’s appropriately urgent, or more like he’s dictating a memo? The phrasing manages to be flat and wordy, like Sarah’s commentary when Rob rescues her, “It was so much more enjoyable than being pawed by smelly drunkards and fed a starvation diet.” Yes, rescue beats a smelly drunkard any day! How can one be fed a starvation diet? Isn’t one just starved? Or, Sarah’s singular thought as she and Rob run for their lives, “She’d laugh out loud with delight if she didn’t need all her breath for running.” And Rob constantly referring to Sarah as a “fluffy chick” … well, Miss Bates thought, there’s truth to that. She is a birdbrain.
On that note, Miss Bates designates Sometimes A Rogue with “Rubs and disappointments everywhere,” Mansfield Park.
Miss Bates is grateful to Zebra/Kensington Books for an ARE via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review. Sometimes A Rogue releases today, August 27th, and is available in the usual places and formats.
Sometimes, dear reader, the birdbrain heroine works, not in Putney’s latest, but it happens. Miss Bates’s favourite “birdbrain” heroines are in the early Julie Garwood historicals. What about you? What are your favourite birdbrain heroines? And what of heroes? Do you have a favourite ninny-hero? (No one can match Rupert Carsington from Chase’s Mr. Impossible for birdbrain-ness! Ah, Rupert … )