Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review: The Pretender by Celeste Bradley

Title: The Pretender
Series: Liar's Club
Author: Celeste Bradley
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: June 16, 2003
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
ISBN: 0312984855
ISBN-13: 9780312984854

Rule #1: Never fall in love.

She had a secret she'd do anything to hide.

Agatha Cunnington, a headstrong beauty from the country, has come to London in search of her missing brother James. The only clue she has is a cryptic letter signed The Griffin. Agatha decides to disguise herself as a respectable married woman so that she can go about the city unnoticed. But for her charade to work she needs a suitable "husband," preferably someone tall, elegant, and rakish-someone like Simon Montague Rain.

He had a secret he'd do anything to hide.

Simon Montague Rain, also known as The Magician, is a member of The Liar's Club, a renegade group of rogues and thieves in the service of the Crown. When someone begins murdering members of the undercover cabal one by one, Simon is given the mission to bring in The Griffin, one of his comrades who is suspected of betraying his brothers. Simon goes undercover and infiltrates the home of "Mrs." Agatha Applequist who he believes is the Griffin's mistress. Before Simon knows what's happened, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Agatha's soft, feminine charms-and he is tempted beyond reason to break the first rule of The Liar's Club: never fall in love.

My rating:

Miss Agatha Cunnington is in dire need of a man. In search of her missing brother, James, she has ventured to London as Mrs. Applequist, but needless to say, her dear Mortimer does not exist. Now, with callers banging on her front door demanding to meet this elusive, adventurous Mortimer, Agatha snatches herself the first man available – a chimneysweep, Simon Rain. He’s an immediate success and the newlyweds promptly receive a pile of invitation for social gatherings.

Agatha has no intention of declining the invitations. She might learn something about her brother’s whereabouts from the military officers mingling among the ton and her uneducated, Cockney-accented, yet incredibly attractive chimneysweep will be her ticket. If she can teach him the intricate rules of the society, the right phrases to say and how to pronounce them, how to eat, and how to dance.

Little does she know her chimneysweep is in truth a master spy, Simon Montague Raines, working undercover to find a traitor in his organization, the Liar’s Club. Due to his abrupt disappearance, James is on the top of Simon’s list and Agatha, paying her bills from James Cunnington’s account, is suspected to being his accomplice… and mistress.

Simon, in order to get closer to her, agrees to the scam of posing as her husband, but soon discovers her to be a huge distraction for his mission.

The Pretender is the first in Ms. Bradley’s Liars’ Club series. I decided to pick this up after the great experience of To Wed A Scandalous Spy. I was slightly disappointed, but it was still a good read.

The main plot, the mystery / suspense, was slow throughout the story and only picked up pace in the last few chapters. Instead of building on the suspense, Ms. Bradley forsook the mystery and concentrated on the intricacies of the romance between the two leads. Don’t get me wrong, I so love the star-crossed-lovers ploy, but in my opinion that was laid a little too thick in this book.

The second bone to pick would be Agatha. I like the feisty, headstrong heroines that don’t let their “hero” trample all over them, but Agatha was a little too headstrong for my taste. She should be slapped regularly every two hours and there is no wonder she received so many marriage proposals. The blokes knew they had to save her from her own stupidity.
At times she also appeared extremely selfish and self-centered. Granted, she repented later on, but still, it’s the thought that counts.

What to say of Simon? Again, McDreamy, McSteamy, and McHorny combined. He’s a stuff of dreams, too good to be true. While Agatha was like an average woman, a little on the plumpish side, he was perfect. Ms. Bradley could’ve made him a little less mouth-watering, but she did give him pretty insurmountable mental hurdles. I understood his need for brooding, but again, it took too much space and time, and once again drew the focus off the plot, slowing it even more.
Also, for a super spy, he was a little thick and rather slow on the uptake.

In general, everybody in this book was a little slow. I figured out who the baddie was the instant the villain appeared in the book. Agatha took a little longer, and once again we proved the male species to be a little thick and (always) thinking with the wrong head!

Despite it all, The Pretender is a greatly entertaining book. While most books are driven by their plots and subplots, the thing keeping this book breathing are the characters, especially the supporting cast filling the gaps with their antics. Mostly, it’s an ode to love (brotherly and other) and patriotism.


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