Review: The Devil's Arms

The Devil's Arms by Charlotte Lamb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amnesia: one of my favorite Harlequin Presents trope next to Secret Baby, which means my favorite trope of all time is Amnesiac Secret Baby (Yes, I know all about Pregnesia and the other one where she wakes up and she’s pregnant and amnesiac and there are 4 candidates for daddies or something—someone tell me which book this is! It must have been written by Judy Christenberry or something, I swear to God). I love amnesia stories because it gives the protagonist the chance to walk through their previous life through the eyes of others and discover they’re completely heinous people or something and maybe this time, redress the grievances and right the wrongs. I’m a sucker for redemption stories like that. Syke! This is not that story.

A lost, confused young woman is found wandering in the moors by an irate, taciturn man with a giant dog, who is really mean to her from the get-go, and doesn’t say much to her but haul her around like a sack of potatoes and gets really mad when his dog is nice to her. He takes her back to his house where he frowns and growls at her and his mother hovers over her weirdly until he finally decides to take her to the hospital. When she wakes up in the morning, the doctors tell her she isn’t badly hurt and she’d be free to go in a few days. The police haven’t tracked down who she is, however, because she had no identifying items on her person. There’s a big gaping hole in her memory where her identity should be and she’d have nowhere to go after she’s released from the hospital. To forestall her full-on panic, Jake Forrester, the man who rescued her, tells her Oh, hey, your name is Lyn and we’re engaged and by the way, you’re a silly bitch and I hate you. Let’s go home now.

Our Amnesiac Heroine™ has no choice but to go with this grumpy, cranky bastard because he’s literally the only person she knows in the world, and she doesn’t want to go back to wandering around in the moors. From the moment they get to Jake’s house, Jake tells her he knows what she’s up to and he’s not going to fall for her one of her tricks again, so she can just stop with this amnesia bullshit because it’s going to get old really fast for the both of them. He orders her to go to bed and change into a nightie, which Lyn finds distasteful because it’s garish and red (the whore’s color), so she refuses to put it on. Jake gives her one of his mother’s nightgowns and thinks briefly that she looks adorable and like a “little girl” in it (barf). Lyn looks at the clothes and makeup that Jake says she left behind the last time she stayed with him and is dismayed with what she finds. The color, cut, and style of most of the clothes are not something she would pick for herself at all—they’re whore clothes. Jake smirks and tells her that’s just how she dresses and Lyn is just plain horrified.

She also finds out that she likes housework, like cooking and all sorts of domestic stuff. She’s even really good at manual labor, stripping paint, redecorating rooms, and climbing up ladders to clean windows. Jake is super pissed to discover all of this about her because when she last stayed with him, she just basically laid around the house like an indolent bitch and had his mother do all the cooking and cleaning, when she could have easily helped the old woman out. Lyn’s like, I’m sorry, I didn’t even know I like to do this shit. Jake’s all, tell it to the judge, bitch, and I’m the judge. He accuses her of pretending she has amnesia, so she could start over and be the woman he could love. He says too little, too late because Lyn has very many sins and Jake intends to make her pay for all of them. To her ultimate horror, Lyn realizes that not only was she an indolent slattern, she cheated on Jake with the village vet, too, as well as a handful of other men in town. When Jake shows her the portrait he had painted of her in the nude, for which she had willingly posed, Lyn is disgusted with how wanton and indecent she could look. Jake tells her that he wasn’t even tempted to have sex with her even though she brazenly offered herself to him, so she taunted him and called him impotent and frigid. Soon afterward, he found her canoodling with David the vet, so he threw her out. That was the last time they saw each other until he found her lost in the moors.

Of course, Lyn becomes best friends with Jake’s mother, Mrs. Forrester, who is also a certified Good Woman because she’s not afraid of hard work like housekeeping, cooking and baking for Jake, washing his clothes, and basically taking care of the man of the house. Mrs. Forrester tells Lynn she didn’t initially cotton to her because all she did was sit around and complain about being bored and messed around with her nails. Lyn looks at her own hands and tells her she can’t imagine not doing hard work with them. Oh, brother. Women who hate chores and can’t abide to do the laundry, resorting to buying underwear from the pharmacy because they haven’t done a load of whites in three weeks, must be as wicked as all get-out. Imagine the fiendishness and the evil thoughts brewing in women who have kitchens that don’t smell like fresh-baked bread and feature a sink with a waist-high pile of dishes and used coffee mugs. Evil, devilish bitches. Jake is loving and lusting after this whole-new Lyn, Good Woman that she now appears to be with no garish clown makeup or whore clothes, but he won’t be fooled again, just in case this is all just a ploy for the Secretly Still Evil Lyn to get her Whore Woman claws into Jake once and forever. He even refuses to do more than just kiss her because she’s a no-good dirty ho who’s probably been with a million men. Gross. How can he even stand to touch her? But she looks so innocent and pure in his mother’s nightgown… Sicko. And she’s good with housework, can help out Mother around the kitchen, so surely that’s reason enough to marry her, even though he still hates her guts…

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT IN WHICH I REVEAL THE TWIST!! I want to read an amnesia story that results in a true personality transformation. Of course Lyn didn’t conk her head, lose all her memories, and turn into a Good Woman just because her noggin got shook a little bit. Silly rabbits. Since Jake was so eager to get married and proposed to Lyn after, like, three dates back in the day, they didn’t really have time to get to know each other, did they? Surely he should have known that Lynette, his former betrothed, had a twin sister she was estranged from called Linda. Jake had the misfortune to meet Lynette, the Bad Twin, the first time around, but he swears to Linda, the woman he married thinking she was Lynette, that if he had met Linda first, he never even would have looked twice at Lynette. Linda is the Good Twin, the Virtuous One, and the virgin who didn’t spread her shit around town like this was the nineties and she was Sharon Stone. Of course, by the time Jake finds out he had married the wrong twin, it was too late to return her to the Pure Womyn store because he had already damaged the goods, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Oy! This book is just Judgey McJudgerstein all over! The Slut-Shaming is just wall to wall, cover to cover. OMGWTFBBQ!! Bad Woman: wears skimpy clothing and garish makeup, drinks alcohol, hates cooking and housework, hates dogs and kittens, and thinks other women are losers. Good Woman: wears pastels and feminine clothing with minimal makeup, loves cooking and housework and redecorating, adore all of God’s creatures, ensures the man of the house always has freshly baked goods to eat, and is pure and good, factory-sealed for freshness until That One Good Man™ comes along and takes her for a wife.

What makes Jake such a prize, anyway? What makes him think he’s deserving of a Good Woman? He’s surly, cranky, and kind of a dick. He lives in the middle of nowhere with his Mother. He’s not a billionaire or anything. Oh, but he probably has washboard abs, stamina for hours of hot sexin’, and a nine-inch penis…yeah, okay. I’m sold.

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