Some of you may recall a few rants I’ve done in the past inspired by a series of books by Elizabeth Peters which feature a buxom blonde historian by the name of Vicky Bliss. Now, I’m sure part of Vicky’s voluptuousness (which she, naturally, abhors because people just won’t take her seriously!) is meant to be tongue-in-cheek satire, but through countless books (that I continually torture myself with), she’s driven me crazy, and not in the same way as all her dashing male suitors. You get mixed messages from a girl like Vicky, where she talks about feminism and then turns around and disparages another woman in the same breath. Some of this might be because the books originally debuted in 1969 (heh), so they’re quite a bit dated, especially in the earlier ones. Maybe it’s wrong of me to criticize since Vicky’s been around longer than I have. But she really brings out the worst in me, driving me crazy with her stupid entanglements and her attempts to be like a sexy Indiana Jones who doesn’t really want to be sexy, really! And I honestly thought there wouldn’t be an adventure/spy heroine to annoy me more than Vicky Bliss.
I was wrong. So, so wrong.
Enter Lulu, the titular heroine in Diane Johnson’s Lulu in Marrakech, which seemed like an intriguing if unsubstantial yarn at first, but dragged me through the mud of a really lackluster adventure indeed. Lulu makes Vicky look like mother-fucking James Bond. And what really gets my goat is that this book’s premise had some potential. Lulu works for the C.I.A. (awesome) and is going to Morocco to do some undercover work (I’m intrigued). She’s staying with her British former lover as a cover (nice!), and there’s an interesting cast of characters to keep her company. Here’s the thing, though. I was never really one hundred percent sure exactly what Lulu was doing there in the first place. We knows she’s a spy, and she’s looking into maybe some terrorism? But she’s super distracted by the social lives of all her friends and does very little actual looking into terrorism. So it all becomes a relationship drama where she’s too concerned about her lover having an affair and the protection of a young Arab girl from her brother to be doing much spying. She keeps telling me she’s a spy. She keeps talking about contacts like she’s a spy. But she doesn’t ever really act like a spy. Because her fake boyfriend might be cheating on her.
Lulu is so unimpressive and uninteresting to me as a character, so this book was a real let down. There were bits and pieces that were interesting, especially the culture-shock aspects of being in Marrakech, but some of that read as a little stereotypical, too. The treatment of women within a Muslim society and Muslim radicalism was naturally part of the plot, but it felt as though it was based entirely on what’s heard in the news, there didn’t seem to be an authenticity there. Granted, I’ve never been to Morocco or Saudi Arabia, so it may be very true to life, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt false, and the mark of a good author is to make you fully believe something even if you’re unfamiliar with it. I didn’t believe a lot about Lulu in Marrakech, really, least of all that Lulu is a competent spy doing absolutely anything of merit in Morocco.
What can I say? I like my spies to do some actual spy-work, I like my supposedly kick-ass ladies to actually kick ass, and I hate when a heroine is too distracted by romance to engage in any other discourse. Three things that this book definitely did not have going for it all all. Not a strong recommendation at all. I almost considered not finishing it, which is just crazy for me, but I powered through all the same. Such bravery. Such sacrifice.