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Disturbing Stranger by Charlotte Lamb

Disturbing Stranger by Charlotte Lamb
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Absolute five-star vintage trainwreck of a romance novel, that’s full on crazy! It does not get more WTF than this. This is seriously strong stuff and not recommended for those that like a sweet romance.

Gorgeous, insane, lethally alpha arrogant hero (36) becomes instantly obsessed with a teenage girl (19), and blackmails her into marriage:

“I don’t want your stupid sentimental little heart, my dear, I want your body. As marriage is the only way I’m ever going to get it, I’ll marry you.”

This is a relatively tame quote. Randal is frequently threatening and abusive, and at one point rapes Laura. This is not the wedding night defloration scene which is “mere” forced seduction. It’s a later scene where he brutalises her, later admits to it, and never shows any contrition or apology. Mores and expectations were very, very different in the 1970s. You can’t approach a novel like this with a 21st century mindset, because it would simply be unpalatable.

“I was raping you,” he said savagely. “That was how I felt. I wanted to take you as brutally as I knew how. God, I was miserable, Laura. I thought my gamble had been lost. Although you were so sweet and responsive in bed, you seemed as much in love with Nicol as ever, and I was desperate. We were home and you would be seeing him again. The thought of that made me so jealous I could hardly bear to look at you.”

Oh – he also slaps her at one point, after sexually assaulting her. No apology for that one either.

Laura has such a “traitorous body” that Charlotte Lamb mentions it three separate times. She also has a steel-lined vagina, needing no recovery time even after her first (pretty brutal) deflowering.

To add to the angst, the teenage heroine has a chaste childhood crush on the gloriously flaccid Doctor Tom, who’s a clear nine on the 1-10 gay scale. (This being 1979, so we all have to pretend he’s straight). He claims some sort of medical vocation which is why he couldn’t declare himself to Laura earlier, but he’s kidding himself.

And there’s a simply divine 1970s dinner party!

  • diced melon
  • braised chicken breasts rolled around liver pâté
  • a melting coffee cream laced with rum
  • thin slices of orange and lemon to serve with the coffee

All in all, I think Charlotte Lamb went a bit too far with the rape scene. We really needed massive contrition after a scene like that, eg with the hero absenting himself out of shame and being prostrate with grovelling and apologies, but we never get it. He continues to be a bastard to her.

It’s a bit of a shame, because that will ruin this book for many (most?) readers, and there are some great, melodramatic moments in this that should have made it a classic, rather than beyond the pale.