(ISBN 0 263 73341 6; Year 1980)
Mills and Boon is often used as a by-word for bad writing and this book is its very embodiment. So appalling, that like the proverbial car wreck we could not avert our eyes. We open with our fair heroine Sara Bourne locked in the attic by her wicked aunt. Cue entrance of hero Morgan Haldane. His mere presence emasculates Sara’s hereto henpecked uncle to reassert his authority, ‘If you don’t move aside immediately, Rachel, I shall hit you,’ he said,’Something, I should have done many years ago. And by God, you’ll know you’ve been hit!’(p.16) We know we have entered a twilight zone where domestic violence is not merely condoned but somewhat looked favourably upon.
Having isolated rescued the heroine, Morgan offers Sara the role of his fiancée. Naturally, this entails a complete makeover and a night on the town in Paris whereby Morgan is offered up as a man of honour. Honour in the Mills and Boon universe is a mutable concept. To be honourable all the hero need do is resist seducing the inebriated heroine. Sara whirled round and nearly stumbled, and he caught her arm and steadied her. ‘Careful,’ he warned. ‘I know you’re perfectly sober, but just remember you’ve drunk quite a fair amount of champagne,’ (p.45). Sober? Really? After plying her with alcohol for the past six hours. Slip the Rophenol next time and walk her home.Think the moral compass might be slightly askew.
We suspect that Wibberley struggled with a rationale why Morgan would conceivably need a pretend fiancée. Warning off unwanted attention of avarice women usually suffices but Wibberley complicates matters by conflating it with a dirty land grab. Sorry, its needed for more noble means of enlarging the orphanage so that makes it alright:
I want to expand the home. This is the only way to go. The mill, restored, would be ideal for a community for the older ones, preparing them for the big world. Only a step away, but a different atmosphere. I’ve thought about it for a while, but there was the insurmountable obstacle of Louise.’…
How does it get me the property? She’ll be mad at you being engaged to me. When I hint to Jack I’d consider him buying me out-and add casually that if he flung this bit of land in it’d be a deal she’ll bite.’(p.86). That’s huge assumption Morgan. Most women that conniving are not that stupid.
Meandering along, with relationships redefined to the hero’s satisfaction, the book takes a curious diversion which tends to suggest that Wibberley was at the end of her writing career when this was penned:
‘You’re a wizard with figures,’ commented Morgan, coming to stand behind her.’Any other hidden talents?’
She smiled.’I write a fair copperplate, but there’s not a lot of demand for that nowadays.’
‘Show me.’ He put a piece of clean blank paper in front of her, and a fountain pen. Sara picked it up and wrote:’The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,’ in bold and beautiful writing and handed it to him.’ (p.148)
WTF???Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore. Who would have thought that in 1980 beautiful handwriting was the key to attracting a husband? Would today’s equivalent be texting 140 characters under 5 seconds? ‘Oh darling, that is such a witty tweet?’ But we digress.
With heavy cover art featuring the hero lighting up this book should have come with a retrospective health warning. Verdict: Paper mache anyone?