Tall, Dark, and Kilted

Allie Mackay
November 2008, Ghost Romance
Signet, $6.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451225511

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Hot

I'm nearly always up for Scottish-paranormal-lite; as long as there are no icky vampires, I'll give it a try, and I have a fairly high tolerance for silliness. So I thought maybe I'd like Tall, Dark, and Kilted. It's a ghost romance, featuring a hero who is doomed to pleasure a different woman every night as he walks (floats?) in a perpetual state of arousal. It sounds like a funny premise, but the characters were too shallow for my liking, and I just couldn't buy into the relationship.

Cilla Swanner comes to Dunroamin Castle, her aunt and uncle's rest home/castle in Scotland to heal her psyche and lick her wounds. Not only has she been dumped by her boyfriend Grant; she's lost her livelihood too. Grant's new love single-handedly drove Cilla's fledgling jewelry business under. Now the castle seems to be beset by problems of its own. More and more residents are leaving, frightened by mysterious goings-on involving Viking ghosts.

Sir Hardwick de Studley of Seagrave (yeah, I know) has chosen Dunroamin castle as his proving place. For seven hundred years he has roamed the earth, bound by a minstrel's curse to pleasure a different woman every night. Tired of his eternal hard-on, Hardwick made a bargain with the dark one: If Hardwick can go a year without becoming aroused, he will be able to rest in eternal peace. There's a catch, of course. If Hardwick becomes aroused, he will be dragged down to hell to pleasure the hell hags. Hardwick has chosen the rest home as the ideal spot, knowing that no hot young thing is likely to come his way. He's lucky enough until Cilla shows up, undressing for her bath and flaunting her perfect breasts.

Hardwick more or less introduces himself to Cilla right away, and she has no trouble believing that he's a ghost. She falls in love with him almost immediately. He is similarly smitten. The path to true love is, of course, not smooth. Cilla is worried about her aunt and uncle's livelihood, and wants to get to the bottom of Dunroamin's problems. She's pretty sure that the "Vikings" wandering in her uncle's peat bog are real people who are up to no good. Hardwick is willing to help catch the evil doers, but he is plagued by a constant desire to be near to Cilla - knowing that if he becomes aroused he has a not-so-promising future riding the hell hag express.

I thought the idea for this book was cute, as far as it went. I also really enjoyed the Scottish setting. Mackay clearly loves the area, and has done her research; the descriptions of the places and landscape are the best part of the book.

Unfortunately, the book is disappointing in most other regards. The plot with the "Vikings" is dumb, and never really seems like much of a mystery. When the resolution comes, it's both silly and anti-climactic. I got the impression it was supposed to feel like a high-stakes ordeal fraught with danger, the type of scenario where you'd really need a battle-hardened Scot around. But it seemed about as dangerous as your average trip to Target. The plot involving the dark one, hell hags, and the like was a little better done, but I still had trouble taking it seriously.

But the bigger problem for me was the relationship between Hardwick and Cilla, which I never found very believable. I could sort of buy into the immediate lust, overdone as it felt. But Cilla declares herself in love almost immediately, when Hardwick had done nothing to invite such emotion beyond standing around looking hot - and catching her twice when she was about to fall. The relationship reminded me of my long-time understanding with Jude Law, the parameters of which are that he gets to be on my free pass list by virtue of his attractiveness alone. I don't necessarily have a problem with love at first sight, but in order for me to believe it, the initial lust needs to grow into something more. That didn't happen here.

Obviously one doesn't open a book about a hero named Hardwick de Studley expecting gritty realism, but any romance rises or falls on the strength and believability of the love relationship. Charming scenery aside, there's just not much here.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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