Tracy Grant, Author . Morrow $24.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-06-621133-6

Brit history maven Grant's debut novel aspires to be a historical thriller, an incisive study of the "spy game" and a revisionist, feminist take on pre-Victorian England, all rolled into one breathlessly paced 500-page package. Unfortunately, Grant's skills as historian exceed her talents as writer, and her graceful intentions are shanghaied by a welter of stale characterizations, unsurprising plot twists and clunky prose. (It's never encouraging when a book opens with a sentence like "It was the sort of night that cloaks a multitude of sins.") Centering upon Mélanie and Charles Fraser, an upper-crust 1810s London power couple—he's a member of parliament and the grandson of a duke; she's a flawlessly coifed social diva—the novel kicks into gear when their beloved son, Colin, is kidnapped by thugs in the employ of a sinister Spanish antiroyalist. As the Frasers frantically investigate Colin's disappearance, they discover that the kidnappers are after the Carevalo Ring, a legendary object with Tolkienesque symbolic power, which may be in the possession of Helen Trevennen, a sly, erstwhile actress. The Frasers pursue the elusive Trevennen amid a barrage of revelations, most notably the less-than-shocking admission that Mélanie is actually a former French spy. For the rest of the novel, the reader is plunged into a morass of uninspired action set pieces and maddeningly repetitive dialogues on betrayal, dishonor and forgiveness. Despite its many flaws, Grant's tale is at least swift-moving and fairly involving, leaving room for hope that her next endeavor will be more satisfying. Agent, Nancy Yost. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/11/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Mass Market Paperbound - 496 pages - 978-0-06-103206-6
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