ISBN 0 263 72395 X (Year 1977)
Vintage 1970s Mills and Boon are perhaps becoming a guilty pleasure. Undoubtedly there is a different morality at play, a more careful use of language and more importantly an enjoyment derived courtesy of the passage of time. We picked this book up at a pokey little Op-Shop where its elderly proprietor lamented the comparatively ‘risqué’ content of the contemporary Mills and Boon. What struck me was the overwhelming amount of Medical Mills and Boon along with the 1970s Vintage MBs and we wondered if the Medicals are skewed towards an older demographic but we digress.
Joanna Leighton, the typically slender, young and beautiful Craven heroine, is holidaying in the Mediterranean with her cousins and cousin’s fiancée. Restless, bored, Joanna despite warnings to avoid the Isle of Saracina absconds there. Caught sunbaking topless she is taken prisoner as ‘a gift for the lion’ (p.34). No prizes for guessing the name of the hero or how this book progresses.
Two things struck me about this book. Joanne’s fiancée is her first cousin (geneticists may argue that there is only a three percent increase in birth defeats than the general population but this does not ameliorate the ick factor). Little wonder the tall dark stranger from a land afar is now a staple of the contemporary Mills and Boon.
The second is the seemingly ludicrous rationale Leo Vargas offers for Joanne’s imprisonment and the evacuation of women and children from the isle. We have to remind ourselves that this was written against the backdrop of the Cold War and mutually assured destruction of the US and USSR was all that stood in the way of nuclear Armageddon.
‘His name,’ Leo Vargas said quietly, is Georgiou Damaryk. His place of birth need not concern us, but up to the date on that paper he was officially a citizen of the Soviet Union, working as a top level scientist….You came here simply because it is forbidden. Damaryk came here for refuge-a frightened man looking for political asylum who was terrified that he might be killed before he could hand over the information he had brought with him as a passport.’
‘Killed?’ Joanna stared at him, her lips parted.
‘Why not? What better way of ensuring his silence? When it was arranged that he should come here, the authorities with who we were in contact in Britain and America made it clear that political assassination was a definite possibility. That, or an attempt to kidnap him before he could pass on his information. Our best hope was secrecy, but there was a chance that he might have been traced here-so, the security screen.’
‘Which I breached.’
As you say. And now you know why you could not be allowed to leave-for your own safety as well as Damaryk’s. Even if you had known nothing, you might still have been a target for Damaryk’s former masters if they had trailed him here.’
She looked at him uncertainly.’Yet you evacuated all the other women…’ (p135-136)
Oh Joanna, don’t you know his motives are less than pure.
A Gift for a Lion is Craven’s third MB (we assume). We have the establishment of the secondary character prototypes that Craven will use for the next thirty five years-the impotent boyfriend, the jealous/irresponsible female cousin/step-sister and overbearing paternal figure. Overall, its a meandering read.