True Spies is my second attempt at Shana Galen’s recent series. I need to give up. Galen was once a reliable read for me but the new direction is incompatible with my tastes. True Spies starts off strong, combining a faltering marriage and a heroine who has had enough of holding down the fort. With two children and an absentee spouse to cover for, Elinor has lost sight of who she is. The first few chapters of the book are divine. Elinor examines how she participated in the narrowing of her life before taking steps to widen it. As a woman impatient with being fed scraps, Elinor shines. I was completely invested in how she would reclaim her self worth and redefine meaning within the confines of her marriage. Winn, her husband, I was less connected to. He’s a charming spy type, busy fighting off one threat or another (it’s a wonder anyone could sleep in London with all the roof activity). There’s the now obligatory secret government organizations with their thinly veiled codenames and mastermind leaders. Whatever, let’s get back to the broken marriage.
Winn realizes he barely knows his children. Work has taken him so far from his home that his servants are largely strangers, His wife has become invisible and when he really looks at her he feels the loss. There are, of course, obstacles to his rejoining his family and doing the hard work of reparation. Elinor has given up on him. There’s a new man commanding her attention, a man he’s never met before. Rafe is offering Elinor the life Winn deliberately excluded her from. I was ready to settle in with True Spies for the rest of the afternoon and let it carry me off. Things promptly went to hell. Winn joins up with the leads from a prior book (also a DNF for me). Things start off with him being urged to just talk to his wife already (promising) but quickly descend into chaos. Murder is presented as a delightful diversion, and the third leg of Winn’s love triangle is dispatched within pages. All it takes to turn Elinor away from Rafe is a quick rub on the head and kiss on the cheek over breakfast. Suddenly she’s comparing Winn and Rafe in a way that makes me feel quite violent.
She had forgotten he was not nearly as tall as Winn, or as broad-shouldered. He was actually rather slight and quite slim. Beside Winn, she always felt petite and delicate. Trollope made her feel like she should hunch over a bit and have Bridget lengthen and tighten her stays. Galen, Shana (2013-09-03). True Spies (Lord and Lady Spy) (p. 85). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Well look who’s come out to play, it’s the body police. Rafe can’t be a Real Man, he doesn’t make Elinor feel thin and childlike. Everyone knows a Real Man is a Charles Atlas type. Obviously Rafe is not hero material. Why, he’s not even worth considering. We can all sit back and wait for Elinor to realize that, can’t we? Let’s review what Rafe has done so far. He’s approached a married woman (property!) and made her feel noticed, desired and appreciated. He’s offered her intrigue and challenged her imagination. He must be a low life seducer because he’s short and thin. Time to all root for Winn!
Winn pulled his hat low over his brow and jumped down, surprising Trollope enough so the man let out a high-pitched squeal. Galen, Shana (2013-09-03). True Spies (Lord and Lady Spy) (p. 90). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Oh look. More coded language. Rafe isn’t manly, y’all. He squeals. In a high pitch. Hmm. Winn and his companion proceed to terrorize Rafe into admitting he’s been lying to Elinor about being a spy in an attempt to seduce her. They lead Rafe to believe he could be facing a treason charge, one that carries a death sentence. Rafe, because he is not manly like Winn, then loses control of his bladder. So now we have a shaking, squealing, slight and slender man covered in his own urine for daring to approach Winn’s neglected (property!) wife. Rafe has agreed to publicly humiliate himself to avoid prosecution for his imagined crimes. That’s going to satisfy Winn, right? Wrong.
“One last thing.” Winn drew his fist back and slammed it into Rafe Trollope’s pretty face. Trollope fell backward and uttered a sob. Winn left him lying among the wet leaves and walked out of the copse with Smythe. “Feel better?” Wolf asked. “Marginally.” Galen, Shana (2013-09-03). True Spies (Lord and Lady Spy) (p. 93). Sourcebooks. Kindle Edition.
Dude, fuck this guy. And this language. He slams it into Rafe’s pretty face, does he? What do we know about the traditional portrayal of pretty, slender, dishonest men who have high pitched squeals and sob? Making Rafe a ladies man doesn’t change how distasteful coding masculinity is. Winn is a great hulking man given to jealousy and violence, is he? I hope True Spies ends with Elinor finding a woman’s shelter instead of a happy ending. At this, the 27% mark, I went from excited and engaged to never wanting to read another word about Elinor and Winn. Perhaps I am being completely unfair to Galen and we will discover Rafe is a terrible person by some other yardstick. Perhaps Winn is a champ of a man who respects women and deserves Elinor’s forgiveness. I’ll never know. I won’t know because my experience of Winn, neglectful father and absent husband, is of a man who considered murdering another simply for daring to desire a wife he discarded. A man who humiliates and beats another man for entertainment and ego satisfaction. I can’t see him as anything other than a bundle of domestic violence warning signs and therefore I can’t finish True Spies. DNF at 27%.
*This review first appeared at Love In the Margins.