Noblesse Oblige by Cynthia Smith

Berkley (first), 1996

Imagine a character with the panache of James Bond, the business purpose and personal code of Travis Magee and the physical prowess (and appetites?) of Mike Hammer. Then put them into the perfect female form of Emma Rhodes, the beautiful (“the face … of a sexy madonna”), incredibly intelligent (a 165 IQ), immensely talented and very rich companion of the world’s social and political elite whose occupation is “private resolver.” In Brussels, Emma foils a kidnapping and is quickly enlisted, for a fee of $20,000, to aid a Spanish count hiding from extremists. The means by which Emma hopes to accomplish this task are never clear, but she comes upon and solves a couple of murders, disables an international drug ring and enlivens the days (and nights) of some handsome police officials on various continents. Noblesse Oblige is a hoot, as broadly illogical as the most lunatic of the James Bond films. This is a spoof, isn’t it? The alternative, too staggering to contemplate, is that the concept was broached in all seriousness. Smith finds the English language a challenge: she somehow avoids the subjunctive entirely (“I assured her I will be there. I had the feeling that away from her family, I will find a very different Sylvia”) and engages in a dizzying mix and match of verb tenses that cries out for editorial intercession. In the event Emma Rhodes once again does her incredible stuff, she needs a substantial raise — $20,000 a case wouldn’t be enough to support her globetrotting ways even if she bought her clothes at Loehmann’s. (Kathy Phillips)

Originally published in Issue # 146 – January/February 1999

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