For their second tag-team novel, Patterson and Gross (2nd Chance) get medieval on us with this heavy-breathing, lose-the-blouse epic about a hunky 11th-century French innkeeper seeking revenge on the dastardly lord who kidnapped his wife. As the bodice-ripper-for-guys plot unfolds, hero Hugh De Luc infiltrates the villain's castle by posing as a jester. The blood 'n' guts flow, the undergarments fly and the lame jokes flop like something from amateur night at the Ramada Inn. The novel's sudden shifts in tone—from sad to wacky to really gross—could give you whiplash. Anachronistic phrases are everywhere (did they really say "new duds" in the Middle Ages?) and the dialogue stinks like a dungeon ("You are a dreamer, boy, but, yikes, what good jester isn't?").
Give the authors a little credit for a fast pace, a silly but fun subplot about the search for a religious relic, and a sympathetic lady-in-waiting seemingly dreamed up with Meg Ryan in mind. But when it comes to having a sense for the medieval era, Monty Python and the Holy Grail looks like a documentary by comparison. (Little, Brown, $27.95)