by Judith Ivory

June 1998
ISBN: 0-380-78645-1
Reviewer Graphic Button Avon Books
Mass Market Paperback

James Stoker was having a great day. Actually, nothing has gone wrong since he came back from his years long exploration of Africa… since his return he's been knighted and given all kinds of important and official posts, including a tenure, at Cambridge. (Note: Cambridge in this story is not the actual Cambridge but a made up one!) And not even a visit to his dentist can ruin his day… but it will eventually.

Nicole Villiers Wild (or Coco as she is commonly called) has the most annoying toothache and while it is her tooth that physically hurts, it's not exactly the reason why she was sobbing in the waiting room of the dentist's office. James becomes concerned when he sees her and Coco waves him away, pretending it to be "nothing". Then Coco blurts out that she'll be 37 years old… which James didn't quite understand (but women readers around the world will get it straight away) and she further mentions that she'll be a toothless old crone soon enough! Still, James finds her enchanting as well as beautiful and impulsively asks her out to a ball - which was to be held in honor of him, of course! And although Coco finds him charming and flattering, not to mention really attractive, she knows better than to get involved with a man almost 8 years her junior. Needless to say, she says "no, thank you", and James is left without an escort to the ball.

From then on, James' life takes a turn for the worse. Through no fault of his, he is blamed for his fellow explorers' deaths (all 148 of them!) as he is the only survivor, and for withholding the place where massive amounts of gold can be found - it wasn't enough that he brought home boatloads full of them! For some, James' discovery of gold is believed to be rightfully "England's" property, in which they (as in James' university colleagues and maybe the monarch herself) must have some sort of share to it, being Englishmen and all. James is reluctant to share this information, as he correctly fears it would mean the death and destruction of a particular African tribe. Although intrigue and deceit swirl around James (in which Coco is mysteriously in the thick of it), it is his romance with Coco that takes up most of his time - in reality as well as daydreams!

Judith Ivory brilliantly intertwines the side plot of greed and intrigue with James and Coco's romance. Ms. Ivory also excels at leaving the reader on their toes by revealing very little of Coco's or James' past. This ploy kept me turning the pages in morbid curiosity, eager to know who Coco is and why she knows so much of James' colleagues… Ms. Ivory also refrained from naming the bad guys right off, putting a slight surprise at the end of the intrigue. As to Coco and James' romance, it doesn't quite end as soon as the mystery is solved; they have many obstacles to overcome as Coco's shady past is revealed and James' position as an academician ascends to respectable notoriety. As the writing and story are excellent, spending a day with this book will be no hardship!

Reviewed in January 2002 by Veronica.

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