The Impostor, by Celeste Bradley

>> Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TITLE: The Impostor
AUTHOR: Celeste Bradley

PAGES: 389
PUBLISHER: St. Martin's

SETTING: Regency England
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: Second in The Liar's Club series.

REASON FOR READING: I enjoyed The Pretender, which I read some years ago.

It isn't easy moving about Society dressed like a dandy-especially when one is a ruthless spy. But that's precisely the latest mission for Liar's Club agent Dalton Montmorecy. Dalton is posing as Sir Thorogood, the elusive cartoonist whose scathing political caricatures have all of London abuzz. The true identity of Sir Thorogood is a mystery, and Dalton hopes that impersonating him will flush out the real menace before his cartoons do further damage to the Crown. Now, if Dalton could only find a way to get the irksome, yet oddly appealing widow, Clara Simpson, off his trail...

When Clara meets Sir Thorogood at a ball, she's certain he is an impostor-because she's the true Sir Thorogood. Secretly penning the cartoons under the frothy nom de plume, Clara hopes to save enough money so that she can leave her in-laws and find a new residence. Now she is determined to reveal an imposter's identity-and that means doing some undercover work herself. But pretending to be someone you're not has a funny way of making a woman do things she wouldn't ordinarily dream of-even if it drives her straight into the arms of her devilishly handsome adversary!
Clara Simpson is an impoverished widow, stuck living with her late husband's silly relatives. She's got a talent for drawing cartoons, and in order to get enough money to set up her own home, she started drawing political cartoons. She sent them to a paper and since then, they have been a runaway success, both making really good money and exposing the injustices in society that bother Clara.

Clara publishes her cartoons under the pseudonym of Sir Thorogood, and is very careful to hide her identity. Not only would it be disastrous for her reputation if it came out that she is Sir Thorogood, but some of her cartoons have managed to upset some very powerful people. These people, it turns out, are well-connected in government, and the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, determined to maintain order at all costs, orders the Liar's Club to investigate.

Dalton Montmorencey, Lord Etheridge, has very recently taken over as leader of the Liar's Club, after the retirement of the previous head, in book 1 of the series. He's not well-known in society, so his brilliant plan is to go about in society pretending to be Sir Thorogood, thus goading the real Sir Thorogood into revealing himself. For a reason that is never fully explained, this involves going round town dressed in ridiculous bright clothing and prancing about like a dandy.

Clara, obviously, is incensed that this ridiculous man is stealing her thunder. Just as brilliantly as her foe, her plan to deal with this is to pretend to be flighty and silly, thus making sure no one suspects her. And with both hero and heroine behaving like complete braindead idiots, the plot moves forward to involve them feeling inexplicably attracted to each other, mistaken identities and a possible betrayal of Dalton by the men supposed to be serving under him.

The book started as a bit of a trainwreck. So bad, in fact, that I was close to dropping it within the first 20 pages (this was one of the volumes in my old Uruguayan TBR, and I'd promised myself I'd allow myself to do this if the book didn't engage me immediately). The hero and heroine behave like idiots (see above), not to mention that the whole concept of the spy society, the Liar's Club, is pretty cheesy.

But after the author got the contrived setup out of the way, the story actually became pretty decent. This was mainly because of Dalton, who was a pretty complex character. This is a guy who came into his title at a very young age and was raised by his mentor, Lord Liverpool, to be serious and loyal. What he's also become is very lonely and detached, and not a particularly charismatic leader. Even though he has been named the head of the Liar's Club, he hasn't managed to connect with his operatives, and he feels uncertain of their loyalty. I really liked the complexity of his patriotism. He sympathises with Clara's causes, but he's willing to sacrifice this sort of thing for the good of the country as a whole (well, for the good of the Crown, which I wouldn't be 100% sure is the same thing, but which clearly was so in people's minds at the time).

Clara I liked significantly less. Her intelligence goes up and down like a rollercoaster, sort of mirroring my enjoyment of the book. She starts out quite silly, so much so that I didn't think her Widow Simpleton play-acting was that much of a stretch. Then she's good for the middle section of the book, but then her IQ plunges yet again and she becomes dumb as a brick.

In this final section, the plot goes off the rails again. It was cruising along at a B grade right until then, but things then became ridiculous and contrived again, not to mention stupidly complicated. And Clara follows suit by arbitrarily deciding to go off on her own to "investigate", with predictably disastrous consequences. The nitwit figures out something treasonous in front of the person she suspects of being the traitor and blurts out what she's just figured out, that sort of thing. And I started getting the feeling that that imbecilic behaviour was catching, because supposedly master spy Dalton, as well as one of his best operatives, both suffer from it in that section, behaving recklessly and allowing bumbling idiots to get the drop on them.

And you know what else I disliked? The way real historical characters are brought into the story, and not just as background. Lord Liverpool, especially, is an important character and doesn't come off very well. I don't really know enough about him to know if he deserved such a portrayal, but this sort of thing makes me uncomfortable.

MY GRADE: I think a C+ is about right. Some of the bits at the beginning and end are more like C-, but the middle was good.


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