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Book Review: Betrayal, an old Harlequin Romance

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

In which I rip Charlotte Lamb a new one, and then praise her.

book cover
They're both nuts

So, I'm reading a Harlequin romance I bought at Waterfront Mission thrift store. It's a Charlotte Lamb, one of my faves from girlhood titled Betrayal. I thought it was thrilling back then. Now I'm absolutely horrified. Cathy is a spineless co-dependent. Muir is obvs abusive. Everyone blames Cathy, even her nicest friends support her reluctantly with a sigh, giving her "the benefit of a doubt." But Muir's a date-raping borderline wife beater and a sociopath. She needs a lot of therapy.

Here's how the confrontation would go down with me: "Back off, Muir! I'm getting a restraining order!" To my friends: "Well, I told you how it really went down. I'm sorry if you find fault with me but that's the way it is. I'm moving on to start anew with supportive friends. I'm gonna find myself." To my father: "Fix your own dinner."

Muir was furious when his convention romance with Cathy went bust because she didn't tell him she was engaged to a wheelchair-bound guy named Stephen whose professed motivation for learning to walk again was to walk down the aisle to marry her. So Cathy thinks he'll never walk again unless she stays with him. But she's fallen out of love with Stephen and falls in love with Muir during the convention. But at the end of the convention, she confesses that she's engaged.

Furious, Muir follows her to her house in a village far away and gets in her house and pushes through a million ways a girl can say "no" until she finally says "yes". Today, we teach boys that "no" does not mean "yes". Back in 1983, no one knew that. Anyway, after her orgasm, Cathy is overwhelmed with shame for betraying her fiance she's sworn to stand by. She rejects Muir; in a physical gesture of denial, she flings way from him, which tumbles her down the stairs (they'd had sex on the second floor landing).

Just as she crash-lands on the first floor, her dad comes home. She says, out of her wits from all the head injuries, "I didn't want to, daddy. He hurt me."

Muir's arrested for rape. Cathy comes to in the hospital with amnesia.

The talks between Muir and his lawyer are full of sexist tripe like the lawyer saying, "Women are likely to say anything." Muir gets off because they arrested another guy for the serial rapes going on in the village. He doesn't believe Cathy has amnesia. But she sees him and the sight of him brings her memory back. Muir threatens all kinds of bodily harm and public shame, says he'll write a nasty expose (he's a journalist) if she doesn't marry him. She's shocked, but feels she has no choice. WTF? She thinks Muir's expose wouldn't just hurt her, it would hurt Stephen and his progress in walking would be halted and he's been hurt enough already.

Here's my response to Muir: "Go ahead! I'll write a counter-response and if no one buys it, fine! At least, I'll have my voice!"

But then Muir tells Cathy's dad his version of things and her dad is all ashamed of her and let down because he believes Muir and hates that she let Stephen down. Cathy is all cringy and guilt-ridden from paragraph to paragraph.

She marries him. He deals more cruelty, then in a moment of weakness, cracks and professes he loves her. She says she loves him. They make up. The End.

I can see how books like this messed up a whole generation of women. I mean, we were all reading and learning from these books that that's what love looked like.

So, why do I collect Charlotte Lamb's Harlequin romances from that era? She was a master at describing masculine features from the point of view of one who is enthralled by the man and she was wonderful at writing scenes of passion as a state of feeling, rather than a choreography of moving body parts (which is a flaw of less gifted writers). I mean, get this:

She couldn't speak, she stood there helplessly watching his mouth come closer, the warm male line of it almost hypnotizing her. She seemed to have been waiting for eternity to feel it touch her own. When it did she was dizzy with pleasure, her arms went round his neck, her hands clenched in his thick black hair, her mind clouding with a desire which made her bones melt.

Ok, the bone-melting part sort of made me think of homemade soup just now, but do you see what I mean? Here's another:

It hurt when Muir reluctantly detached himself and looked down at her, breathing thickly, a dark red stain along the high angle of his cheekbones.

I can feel it when I read this, like I'm gazing at his face just inches above my own. This is why I keep my Charlotte Lambs. Her ability to weave this kind of spell is inspiring. It's an ideal to practice toward when I write love scenes. It's damn hard to do, by the way. You try it.

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