Title: The Pretender
Author: Celeste Bradley
Review number: 23
Stand alone/series: Book one of Liar’s Club series
Summary: SHE HAD A SECRET SHE’D DO ANYTHING TO HIDE.Agatha Cunnington, 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 Rain.HE HAD A SECRET HE’D DO ANYTHING TO HIDE.Simon Rain 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 James Cunnington, 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 James’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
Why did I read the book: I was curious and wanted to read another Spy novel after The Spymaster’s Lady. It is my first novel by Celeste Bradley
Simon is the spymaster of the Liar’s Club, a group of undercover agents that work for the Crown. He is currently investigating the deaths of some operatives and suspects that his best friend and Liar comrade, James The Griffin Cunnington, is behind the treason. James has disappeared without a trace and when someone called Agatha Applequist makes a withdrawn from james’ bank account, Simon decides to investigate her .
Turns out, Agatha is actually the Griffin’s sister but she knows nothing of the Liar’s club. She is just very worried about her brother and leaves her country estate to search for him in London. But the only way that she can do this is by pretending to be a married woman, so she comes up with the name Mortimer Applequist for her husband and sets up a household from where to start her “rescue” mission.
But she is in a pickle right now. Members of society are pressuring her to meet the husband and this is when Simon, disguised as a cockney chimneysweeper, steps in just in time (*g*, Mary Poppins!) . She jumps as the opportunity and turns him into Mortimer by brushing away the dirt and soot (hehe, sorry, can’t resist!) – so, now you have Simon, pretending to be a chimneysweeper, pretending to be Mortimer Applequist who doesn’t even exist to begin with. And the comedy of errors continues as Agatha then thinks he is actually a thief pretending to be a chimneysweeper and is delighted by this turn of fate and asks him for help to try to find his brother, which of course, works really well for Simon who also wants to find him while keeping an eye on Agatha whom he suspects is either a courtesan, a spy or both . Phew.
Of course, the real complication comes with the fact that they are both immediately hit by the arrow of Eros , specially Simon, who just. can’t. concentrate. This Spymaster, this most prominent member of the Liar’s club who has the best instincts in the field just can’t get anything right when around Agatha and her breasts. Seriously. Tsk, Tsk, what would the King do if he knew, Simon? Give you the license to quit and then make you into a Lord so you can marry the lady? Not likely. Oh, hold on. Is that so? Really? Prinny is a Deux ex Machina now?
Jokes aside, Agatha is a complete delight. She is funny, she is courageous, she is smart and beyond capable of taking care of her own Estate and of herself and in holding her own destiny in her hands. She can spin stories like a real confidence woman and she will just follow her own desires. Once she decides that she loves Simon there will be no stopping her and that makes for some of the funniest moments in the book, while she comes up with plan after plan to seduce him. She even sits down to write a list:
“First, invite Simon to her bedroom. No. Too Spider-and-the-fly. She would go to his room.
When? Immediately after he retired? The stroke of Midnight?
Heavens , how complicated seduction was. It was a wonder the human race continued at all. “
Even though sometimes the story requires a lot of suspension of belief as Simon makes many errors of judgment while Agatha is always so spot on you begin to think that she should be the Spymaster or even Queen of England, she is THAT capable; or that there are a few unbelievable scenarios and the revelation of the villain and the reasons for its villainy is laughable at the best, I was still engaged in the story. Because beyond the silliness of the plot, there is the undeniable quality of the writing itself, that shines mostly in the dialogue, the inner thoughts of both Agatha and Simon and in the array of characters that surround them.
If you are hoping to read a real Spy story with believable spies and plot twists, you are probably better off reading The Spymaster’s Lady. But if you just want to relax and be amused by a spunky heroine and a sexy hero, well then, this one is sure to please.
Even though not the best of romance novels I read of late, I am still interested enough in the Liar’s club to pick up the next book.
Notable quotes/ parts: All the parts when Simon thought about Agatha and how incredible she is. For example when they are talking about his past and Agatha understands how he feels without him saying anything, he thinks:
“it was as if she’d read a page from his past. Simon felt a twinge of something that felt suspiciously like gratitude. A man wasn’t supposed to put these things into words. A man was meant to soldier on.
For the first time, he saw that a woman might have her own strength in that she wasn’t afraid to speak her heart.
And sometimes his.”
Additional Thoughts: At the end of the book Simon and Agatha decide to start a school for training future members of the Liar’s Club in the arts of thieving, sabotage, spying. I have to say that I am intrigued by this and would like to read more of the future series. Even though, part of me must say that isn’s a school for spies a paradox? I mean, isn’t everything supposed to be hush hush secretive and a school is not exactly laying low is it? I am intrigued indeed.
Verdict: hummm, not one of my favorites but I am not giving it away yet.
Rating: 6. good, recommended with reservations.
Reading next: Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean