by Celeste Bradley

June 2003
ISBN: 0-312-98485-5
Reviewer Graphic Button St. Martin`s Press
Mass Market Paperback

RITA-nominee Celeste Bradley has decided to write a series of Regency romances. These books will be tied together by the activities surrounding The Liar’s Club, a gentleman’s establishment that is also the namesake of a group of rogues in His Majesty’s Service both at home and abroad. After reading the first installment, The Pretender, all I can say is - the Cynsters, Mallorens, Bridgertons and most recently the Bedwyns should all spare some shelf space for this dashing group of scoundrels!

In The Pretender, we meet Simon Montague Raines, called The Magician by his fellow club-mates, in point of truth, the spymaster of The Liar’s Club. Simon is hot on the trail of a traitor named the Griffin, whose information has led to the death and assault of some of the Crown’s best operatives. Weighing heavy on his heart is also the sinking feeling that he may know the identity of the Griffin, James Cunnington, his best friend and fellow spy. James disappeared just before the murders started, and to make matters worse, a large deposit of money appeared in his bank account at the same time. As if this were not enough to make Simon suspicious, a Mrs. Agatha Applequist has arrived in town and has been using the same bank account. Obviously she is in league with the clever traitor!

Simon’s deduction could not be further from the truth. Indeed Agatha Cunnington did arrive in town and use funds from her brother James’ account - but it was her money that she had deposited there for the trip. She is worried sick that her beloved brother has dropped out of sight. She is determined to locate him. Perhaps the person that was mentioned in the society column, the Griffin, can help her locate James. To aid in her investigation, she has “invented” a husband. No one would ever think twice about a married woman volunteering her time at the hospital or traveling about London unchaperoned. Agatha requires the freedom that a “husband” will bring to her quest, without the bother of actually getting married!

When Agatha’s plans fall apart and she must produce her spouse for the nosy matrons she has met, she is at her wit’s end. With almost impeccable timing, Simon strolls through her back door, completely disguised as a chimney sweep. Agatha takes one look at him, and immediately decides to pass off this rather coarse person as her beloved Mortimer, provided that he does not speak at all!

This is only the beginning of an entertaining battle of wills and wits that does not let up until the last page. Agatha and Simon are both stubborn and managing, passionate and sensitive. Simon is convinced that the tempting Mrs. Applequist is James’ lover, and Agatha believes that Simon is a sweep by day, and a cat burglar by night! Readers will love the detail that has gone into the secondary characters, providing them with full-blown personalities and quirks. We are also introduced to a number of potential “Liar’s” who may appear in future books. One thing is for sure - The Pretender is not “pretending” to be a good book! It doesn’t have to pretend at all!

Reviewed in June 2003 by Paula.

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