Indiscreet, by Candace Camp

>> Thursday, February 22, 2007

Candace Camp is an author I rediscovered a few years ago. Back when I first started reading romance I picked up a couple of her books which were really awful bodice rippers, so reading what she's been writing in the past decade or so was a surprise. My latest was Indiscreet, a 1997 title.

book cover
Benedict Ellsworth and Camilla Ferrand were using each other shamelessly. If her grandfather thought she was engaged, he could die in peace. And if Benedict could get an entree into her family's estate, he could ferret out a treacherous spy.

Each was drawing the other into a dangerous deceit--for even if they survived the danger of Benedict's mission, how would they undo the love between them?
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Indiscreet was pretty blah, and there were a couple of plot points which would have required more suspension of disbelief than I can achieve. Still, Camp is a good writer, and as all of her books, this one was quite readable, which I guess should count for something. A C.

On her way to her grandfather's estate, Camilla Ferrand's carriage gets lost in the fog, and she drives right into a dangerous situation, from which she's rescued by one of the men involved in it, Benedict Wincross. Each blames the other for the mess, and their relationship is adversarial from the start.

On arriving at a nearby inn and meeting Benedict's very respectable-looking friend, Sedgewick, Camilla tells them about what's weighing on her mind: her grandfather's very sick, and his worries about Camilla's future (basically, that she's still unmarried and with no prospects of being so any time soon) are aggravating his condition. Therefore, to stop him from worrying, Camilla has made up an imaginary fiancé. This has obviously become more complicated than she expected, and her whole family is insisting on meeting this guy. So here Camilla is, on her way to visit them, and knowing she'll have to invent some kind of excuse about why her fiancé isn't accompanying her (at which point, she fears her grandpa will become even more worried about just what kind of man his dear granddaughter has got involved with).

Anyone puzzled about why Camilla would reveal such intimate concerns to two men she's just met, one of whom she actively dislikes? Me, too. But ok, this I could take. Problem is, it gets worse.

Hearing this story, Sedgewick sees a golden opportunity in front of him. See, he and Benedict are spies (Of course!, you're thinking), and they're in the area trying to investigate a leak in their spying ring, which employs the town's smugglers as conduits (spies and smugglers, what could be more original?). Unfortunately, their investigations have been getting nowhere, because no one will speak to them, and the man who was their go-between is dead.

If Benedict could pretend to be Camilla's fiancé, however, both their problems would be solved. Camilla would be able to show off a real, live man, and Benedict would be regarded almost as one of the family, and so worthy of being trusted. So Camilla is persuaded to agree, even though she's not told about Benedict's mission. She thinks he's just doing it for a fee.

But here comes what I just couldn't bring myself to buy: when they arrive at their destination, it turns out one of Camilla's silly aunts has taken the story about the fake fiancé a little futher, and has told the rest of the family that she's actually already married. So does Camilla simply state that this is wrong, maybe by saying that her aunt must have misunderstood her latest letter, or inventing some excuse? Nope, she can't contradict her aunt, you see, because that would so humiliate the poor thing! There's nothing to do but allow everyone to think she and Benedict are, indeed, married, even if this means they'll be sharing a bedroom.

I'm sorry, but give me a break. The fake fiancé thing was stupid enough, but the way she went along with her imbecilic aunt's story was too much. This is 1812, the consequences of being found out would be pretty huge, and yet that idiot Camilla will rather risk her reputation (and her grandfather's health, if he should find out, because what could be a greater shock that finding out that the man who's been sleeping in his sweet, innocent granddaughter's bed isn't her husband?) than make up a story about why the marriage hasn't taken place yet. Come on, off the top of my head: "I did write to auntie that we would be married last week, so I imagine that's why she told you the marriage had already taken place. But Mr. Benedict's mother was sick and couldn't attend, so we were forced to postpone it for a little while longer." See? Piece of cake.

This is just the set-up of the book, which includes Camilla and Benedict's initially hostile relationship turn into something more, Benedict carrying out his spying mission and a subplot about Camilla's young cousing getting in over his head with the smugglers. Pretty humdrum stuff, and I'm afraid it never got very interesting.

What saves this book from a D is Camp's writing. I don't mean that it's a particularly beautiful or lyrical style, simply that it's very smooth. Even though I wasn't that involved in the story or the romance, I read the book quickly, without having to force myself to go on. There's no choppiness or weird dialogue, or anything like that here; Camp really is a pro, and this is nothing to sneeze at.

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