Have I ever mentioned how happy I am that Loretta Chase is writing regularly again? You might’ve gotten an inkling since I actually dedicated threeâ€”THREEâ€”entries on this website on my search for a copy of Mr. Impossible. And I’m as happy as Dieter getting his monkey touched to report that with her latest effort, Chase doesn’t disappoint. (She rarely does; the only time I’ve been less than impressed with her work was with The Last Hellion, but the less said about that book the better.) Mr. Impossible is almost perfect, and I stayed up until 5 a.m. Saturday morning finishing it, trying not to bounce too hard with suppressed glee so I wouldn’t wake The Very Tall Husband.
Daphne Pembroke fell in love with hieroglyphics the first time she saw them as a little girl, and has dedicated her life to doing what no scholar has succeeded thus far: finding the key to translating those odd little picture-words. Her dedication to furthering her knowledge is so fierce that when she was 19, she married a clergyman 35 years her senior because of his extensive book collection. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Virgil Pembroke turns out to be a stuffy, passive-aggressive asswipe; ref. Romance Novel Commandment No. 42: “Thou shalt not suffer a heroine who hath a happy first marriage with an excellent sex life to live, though the hero may be allowed provided the former wife be uncommon delicate of constitution and expire painfully during childbirth, consequently leading to years of self-flagellation, anguish and guilt.”
Luckily for Daphne, Virgil cocks his toes five years into their not-quite-blissful union, and she’s free to travel to Egypt and follow her interests without his admonishments about her unfeminine pursuits. But that still leaves the problem of having her scholarship being taken seriously by the rest of the world. Enter her lovely and supportive older brother Miles, who helps her by masquerading as a linguistics scholar and thus providing her with a much-needed link to the mainstream of scholarly society.
And then Miles goes and gets kidnapped shortly after he purchases her a rare, beautifully-inscribed papyrus, reputed to hold the secrets to the location of an ancient pharaoh’s tomb, filled with treasure. Daphne runs to the British Consul for help, only to find that the only assistance available is Rupert Carsington, the completely unmanageable fourth son of the Earl of Hargate. He’s huge, spirited and tremendously strong, but he also doesn’t seem all that bright: he’s currently languishing in the depths of one of the nastiest dungeons in Cairo for allegedly trying to take on a large chunk of Muhammad Ali Pasha’s army, single-handedly.
Rupert isn’t stupid, of course. He merely enjoys provoking the very beautiful, very smart Daphne, just to see what she’ll say or do; he also finds that keeping her in a state of high dudgeon helps prevent her from crying, a female state he feels completely unequipped to deal with that drives him absolutely frantic. So he cheerfully declares that thinking is her domain, insists on calling papyri “those brown thingums,” claims her servants’ names are completely unpronounceable and proceeds to call them by English names, and then goes on to flirt outrageously with her. And Daphne can’t help but be attracted to this unpredictable, beautiful man who, infuriating though he may be, actually seems fascinated by her intellectual prowess instead of belittling it.
The budding romance happens during a most delightful adventure story that reminds me in many ways of an Indiana Jones movie, only set in 1821. Daphne and Rupert weather all sorts of attacks by assorted thugs hired by not one, but two different villains, narrowly escape from being trapped in pyramids and other types of ancient Egyptian tombs, rescue some strays along the way, are shot at, stabbed at, have their heads beaten (and do some head-beating of their own) and still somehow manage to save the day (and Miles, of course).
And may I say that Chase does a most excellent job with her villains? She doesn’t make them gay, or hideously ugly, or beat up small animals or children, or anything else of the sort to indicate that they’re Very Nasty People. Instead, they’re two men engaged in a race for Egypt’s slowly dwindling supply of antiquities, and their ambitions have so completely consumed them that it has become a veritable war of one-upmanship. One of the villains actually treats his employees very well and forbids them from being beatenâ€”that is, unless they fail at a crucial task, in which case their punishment is very familiar if you’ve ever read Asterix and Cleopatra.
As in every Chase novel, the witty dialogue is the best feature. Rupert, in particular, won me over with his sly attempts to incense Daphne and his cheerful proclamations of his irresistible charms. Here’s a little sample from the very beginning of the book, where Daphne and the consul’s secretary are picking Rupert up from the Cairo dungeon. Keep in mind he’s still behind bars, and his release is as yet uncertain:
“That man,” she said in low but still audible tones, “is an idiot.”
“Yes, madam, but he’s all we got.”
“I may be stupid,” Rupert said, “but I’m irresistibly attractive.”
“Good grief, conceited too,” she muttered.
“And being a great, dumb ox,” he went on, “I’m wonderfully easy to manage. (â€¦) I’m as strong as an ox, too,” he said encouragingly. “I can lift you up with one hand and your maid with the other.”
“He’s cheerful, madam,” Beechey said, sounding desperate. “We must give him that. Is it not remarkable how he’s kept up his spirits in this vile place?”
Obligingly, Rupert began to whistle.
And I don’t know if you noticed, but when you read Chase dialogue, you can actually hear the British accents in your head. Chase has an uncanny knack for the correct rhythm and cadences of British speech, and never resorts to random ‘tis-ing and ‘twas-ing in an attempt to recreate “authentic” historical speech patterns.
I only have two very, very minor complaints with this book. One of them falls into the realm of petty nitpicking, but really, I hate it when authors do this. One of the villains is described as having tawny hair and eyes at the beginning of the book, but towards the end of the book his eyes mysteriously change to blue. This pulls me out of the story and sends me on a frantic search for eye color references in other parts of the book the way few other errors can.
The other flaw has to do with what I feel are too many references to Alistair Carsington, Rupert’s older brother and the hero of Miss Wonderful (another excellent book). I felt that Rupert’s references to Alistair add something to the book in only two spots during the story; the other mentions started to sound repetitive after a while. Yes, we know Alistair is a Waterloo hero; yes, we know he limps. Get on with the seduction and/or the skullduggery already!
Anyway, if you like your heroes big, protective and confident without being annoyingly arrogant; if you like intelligent, strong-willed heroines who don’t indulge in Too Stupid To Live behavior; if you enjoy zippy dialogue and adventure stories that swash and buckle along with great flairâ€”you’ll probably enjoy Mr. Impossible. God knows I did. Now I’m just antsy with anticipation for the next book in this series, featuring the oldest Carsington brother, Benedict.
I know, y’all can’t wait to read the no doubt four or five blog entries I’ll dedicate to my obsessive attempts to get my hands on a copy as soon as humanly possible.