The Passion of the Purple Plumeria

With nine novels in the Pink Carnation series under her belt, it's obvious that Lauren Willig has hit upon a winning formula: mix Napoleonic spies with a dash of intrigue, add buckets of humor and romance. But the irreverently named The Passion of the Purple Plumeria contains a fantastic surprise in the form of its heroine: the irascible, eminently practical and decidedly middle-aged Miss Gwen.

Posing as chaperone to Miss Jane Wooliston, while secretly serving as second-in-command to the secret agent known as the Pink Carnation, Miss Gwen has reveled in the independence and adventure of her double life. But when Jane's youngest sister goes missing, Gwen reluctantly discards her costume breeches and false mustaches to investigate the girl's disappearance. She is thrown into the company of roguish Colonel William Reid, newly returned from India, whose daughter has also vanished. Following the trail leads them to secret orgies and back-alley ambushes, but Gwen finds in Colonel Reid himself what may be her most stimulating adventure yet.

One of Willig's strengths is writing hilarious and faintly ridiculous characters who can, at the drop of a hat, become deeply, poignantly real. Gwen and Reid are both well drawn, with nuanced back stories, and the two come together by thoroughly entertaining fits and starts. The scene is effectively stolen, however, by the subtly corroding relationship between Gwen and Jane, which gives us tantalizing hints at the true personality behind the Pink Carnation and will leave readers salivating for Willig's next book. --Judie Evans, librarian

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