Dangerous Deceptions, by Lynn Kerstan

>> Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Another one from the depths of the TBR pile: Dangerous Deceptions, by new-to-me author Lynn Kerstan (awww, loved the cute cat on the author's website!)

"You are summoned to Paradise..."

One of these challenging invitations is accepted by Jarrett, Lord Dering, a family outcast who lives by his own rules...the other by Kate Falshaw, a high-tempered actress on the run from a scandalous past. The exclusive resort promises to fulfill every desire, but beneath the glittering surface deadly games are in play...

Jarrett and Kate, with nothing in common and nothing to lose, are forced into a dangerous alliance against a powerful enemy. But the daring masquerade that hides their true purpose also sets them on a journey of self- discovery. When Kate's antagonism yields to Jarrett's seductive charm, the unexpected passion engulfs them both. Jarrett longs to understand the secrets of his tormented and beautiful new companion.

And as the two work their way into the dark heart of Paradise, through its perils and mysteries, they discover that Kate's own past could prove to be the gravest threat of all.
Well, Kerstan can definitely write, but the story she tells has an unconvincing, cliché-ridden plot and characters I never particularly cared about. A C-.

Jarrett, Lord Dering is barely surviving by gambling in the London hells and clubs, when he receives a mysterious summons. "You are summoned, for your failures, your guilt, and your debts ... ", the letter starts, and it introduces him to the members of the mysterious Black Phoenix society, devoted to righting wrongs the authorities can do nothing about.

Through a mix of pressure and bribes and mild threats, Jarrett is recruited by the Black Phoenix into undertaking a dangerous mission. He's to spend some time at Paradise, an infamous resort which caters to rich noblemen's every whim, no matter how decadent. Another Black Phoenix operative will contact him, there, and together, they're supposed to investigate a series of crimes.

The other Black Phoenix operative is former actress Kate Falshaw, who's been performing in Paradise as the exotic gypsy dancer Gaetana. It just so happens that the resort owner has given Kate an ultimatum: if she wants to keep working at the resort, she'll have to make her sexual attentions available to the guests in an auction. Just dancing doesn't cut it any more, because the clients have began to complain that Paradise's promise that everything can be had, for a price, is not being fulfilled.

Kate decides to kill two birds with one stone. She needs to be able spend time with Jarrett unsuspected, so to do so, while at the same time saving herself from the owner's demands, she creates a complicated charade. Her plan involves her humiliating Jarrett on their first meeting, so that this not-particularly-rich guy will be able to win the auction because his fellow noblemen will relish seeing the proud Gaetana demeaned and owned by the very man she was so uppity with.

The plan works, and so Kate and Jarrett find themselves working together to accomplish their mission, while having to keep up the public appearance of the sexually-charged roles they're playing.

The set-up of DD asks for a huge suspension of disbelief from the get-go, and I'm afraid it never fully got it from me. The whole concept of the Black Phoenix society felt suspect. Even worse, I might have accepted it if it had appealed to me in some way, but I didn't find the idea of such an organization intriguing in the least. I'd even go as far as to call it contrived and silly. I didn't much like them, actually. Yes, they are against evil, and everything, but what right do they have to go around judging people and deciding that their "sins" merit that they should risk their lives doing their dirty work?

I also never saw why Jarret and Kate would volunteer for those plans. For your guilt, for your sins, for your debts? (paraphrasing here). Oh, please. Ok, Jarret does say something about being bored and accepting for that reason and for the money he'd get, but Kate? No reason I can see for her to do so, except for a martyr complex, and absolutely no reason for the Black Phoenix to use her and make her do what they were ready to make her do.

When Jarrett arrives at Paradise, that got another groan from me. Yeah, yeah, another Hellfire Club-type plot. Can we move on, please?

Maybe if the romance had been good, I would have been able to overlook the dubious plot, but it wasn't. I didn't feel any real fondness and not even much real attraction between Kate and Jarrett. And what attraction there was was tainted by the seedy feel of the roles they were acting, of dissipated rake and his sexual plaything. I guess that might have felt piquant, if done right, but it felt dirty instead. The humiliation Kate was feeling in some of those situations was too real for me to enjoy most scenes.

And yet another annoyance: the last 80 pages felt tacked on. They take place after the events in Paradise and after all danger emanating from it is over, and they were just not organic to the book. I was very puzzled by all the new characters coming out of the woodwork and the unnecessarily complex plans to fix Kate's past. Maybe it's a way of introducing characters who'll star in the next book in the series, but I really don't think I'll be looking for that one.


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