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Fear for the Woman’s Ear

What Angels Fear by C. S. Harris
Allen & Unwin, $28. Reviewed by ANDREA JUTSON

whatangelsfear.jpgLike listening to one of the Regency’s famed castrati on stage, one can’t help thinking there’s a little something lacking here. As with a grown man singing soprano, C. S. Harris strikes rather too many bum notes to be comfortable with, which perhaps is just colonial snobbery towards an American writing a British novel. But just listen to this ear-grater: ‘Lord love you, guv’nor.

Now’s no time to be funnin’. There’s Bow Street men downstairs right this weery minute. Asking for you, they are – leastways, if’n you’re the cove what knifed a constable over Mayfair way…’

That’s a taste of 12-year-old Tom’s ‘authentic’ London patter. In a word: urk. For those who don’t mind a bit of rough, however, there’s the makings of a good book in here, certainly for the swooning hordes who adore Diana Gabaldon and Georgette Heyer. It was lavished with praise by Stephanie Barron, the woman who turned the unmatchable Jane Austen into a fictional gumshoe. Draw from that what you will.

On to the plot. Viscount Sebastian St Cyr (*cough*) appears to have stepped fully-formed from the pages of a Mills and Boon, aristocratic broodingness and drawling of quips intact. While spouting leaden dialogue, he leaps from one catastrophe to the next, being fingered for the murder of an actress, then for the knifing of a constable sent to arrest him. Our honourable hero goes on the run to clear his name, in the process calling on the feisty Irish beauty who broke his heart all those years ago…

The novel works in that the killer isn’t apparent until near the end, and there’s the requisite romance and cliffhanger ending, and it really isn’t horrible. There’s even a large dollop of political intrigue, which tries to elevate it out of the ranks of historical romance. But for the true lover of history and good books, it’s hard going – and that’s why it’s so ironic that the author, real name Candice Proctor, is a retired history professor. Perhaps she’d better have stuck to the facts.

There are probably plenty of women out there who will enjoy this book, but it just doesn’t have the quality of a good crime novel, and lacks enough bodice-ripping and declarations of love to really make it as an historic romance. And Tom is actually described as a street urchin.
And sequel When Gods Die is available now.
Enough said.

I’m off to read Jane Austen.

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Andrea Jutson is a South Auckland crime writer, reviewer and journalist. Her most recent book was Senseless, Random House.