cover image Mrs. Gulliver

Mrs. Gulliver

Valerie Martin. Doubleday, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-54995-0

Martin (The Ghost of the Mary Celeste) sets this undercooked romp in a brothel on a fictional tropical island in the 1950s, where prostitution is legal. The story opens with beautiful blind orphan Carità Bercy arriving at the brothel in search of employment. Hired by proprietor Lila Gulliver, Carità is breezy and self-possessed, popular with the other girls and the clients. Then Ian Drohan, the self-righteous heir to one of the island’s largest fortunes, falls for Carità, and the star-crossed lovers run away to be secretly married. It turns out Ian is sought by a gang boss whose goon Ian killed in a shoot-out after he murdered Ian’s friend. Ian’s father, Mike, searches for his son at the brothel, where he meets Lila. The two become romantically involved as they set out to find the runaways. As the plot unfolds, the enigmatic Carità, who desires most of all to go to college and sees Ian as her ticket to get there, reveals herself to be more self-serving than heartfelt. Unfortunately, Martin doesn’t delve into questions of agency or victimization, slipping instead into trite language and cringe-worthy clichés (“He pulled me in gently for a five-alarm kiss”; “My knees buckled”). This lacks the punch of Martin’s earlier works. (Feb.)