Englishwoman Camilla goes to Afghanistan to hunt for her missing sister, and meets another Briton, an arrogant historian of Afghanistan named Malcolm, but he might be the only thing standing between her and death as she searches for her sister, and she cannot help but fall in love with him in the process. This delightfully Orientalist (note the sarcasm) love story is set in Afghanistan in the '80s. Malcolm is British, well-bred, arrogant, a pedigreed historian, and has "gone native" like some British officer in India in 1800s or Lawrence of Arabia. Camilla is also British. She is pretty, red-haired, pseudo-feminist, and on the hunt for her sister Meghan. Meghan and her husband Tom had been traveling through South Asia, sending Camilla postcards on the way (oh, the pre-Internet era!), when they disappeared. The British embassy informed Camilla that Tom was found dead in his car, all his possessions taken, and that Meghan is missing and presumed dead. Camilla is in Afghanistan to investigate her sister's disappearance.
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Camilla and Malcolm meet at a dinner at their mutual friends' home, a married couple named Johnny and Janet. There is instant attraction and also dislike since Malcolm mocks Camilla for being easily scared of insects (I am mocking her too - I'd love to know how this heroine intends to find her sister with that level of courage) and Camilla hates Malcolm for being so damn arrogant, but we all know where that leads don't we?
It also wouldn't be an '80s Harlequin novel without a nice dose of slut-shaming, so Malcolm thinks Camilla is a thrill-seeker who is way in over her head trying to search for Meghan in the Afghan desert, and thinks that she might try to charm Married Man Johnny into helping her and wreck his marriage in the process because she is just That Kind of Woman. Later, Camilla is in danger again (poor helpless white woman being mobbed by woman-hating Afghans in a Kabul bazaar), this time rescued by a suave, charming Frenchman named Patrice (really?). Patrice claims to be a freelance journalist, but he has a really fancy car and takes Camilla for fancy lunches and Camilla just can't stop swooning over how fancy Patrice is. Camilla tells him about her hunt for Meghan and he promises to help her. Then Camilla runs into Malcolm and he slut-shames her for charming Johnny AND now Patrice. She is indignant and outraged and tries to protest that Malcolm is wrong about her instead of, you know, saying all the unprintable things a woman with self-respect would have said to a man like Malcolm. Malcolm also makes it clear he's tempted to sleep with her. Camilla hates him.
However, as her investigation continues, Patrice advises Camilla to give up the hunt and return to England. Camilla also receives a note threatening her death if she continues the investigation. Malcolm suggests Meghan ran off to live with the nomadic tribes to escape her unhappy marriage. Malcolm becomes interested in the case when Camilla reveals that Meghan is a qualified nurse. Malcolm and Johnny warn Camilla not to trust Patrice or speak to him again. However, Camilla is so annoyed by Malcolm's ability to flirt with her and arouse her and yet also boss her around that she continues to confide in and see Patrice. This leads to Camilla almost falling into a trap and being nearly abducted from a restaurant after several goons stage an uproar to create confusion and chaos. Patrice implies the nomadic tribes, called the Kuchis, are the real murderers of Tom and Meghan and are on Camilla's trail. But when Malcolm and Camilla begin investigating the clues starting with Tom's wrecked car, Malcolm reveals to Camilla that Patrice is involved in the drug trade, specifically hashish and heroin.
Malcolm and Camilla slowly start to trust each other a little and bond over books and shared interest in history. They figure out that Tom and Meghan must have stumbled onto Patrice and the Kuchis' involvement in the drug trade and tried to stop it, which led to Tom's murder and Meghan's escape leaving her presumed dead - except that Patrice does not think she really is dead. Malcolm reveals his vulnerabilities to Camilla by admitting that his sister was a victim of the drug-trade - a thrill-seeker who had her drug habit enabled by Patrice, which led to her death. Camilla grows sympathetic towards Malcolm as this explains his arrogance, his curtness and his attitude towards women, apparently. They return to Kabul and decide to pretend they are ignorant of everything to try and trap Patrice into leading Camilla to where her kidnapped sister is being held. Malcolm is sure the tribes will hold Meghan because her medical knowledge makes her useful.
They begin to grow closer. However, Camilla grows angry when she realizes she is starting to fall for Malcolm, and sees him on a date with another woman in Kabul - a beautiful Afghan woman named Nurjan. Although Kuchi tribesman pass through Kabul, Malcolm doesn't want to set a trap for Patrice or start another hunt until they turn up more definite information. Camilla stumbles upon a lead in the bazaar when she finds that an Englishwoman among the Kuchi has been selling expertly sewn English dresses, but before she can follow up on the lead, an attempt is made on her life when a shooter tries to shoot into her bedroom window from another rooftop. For the sake of her safety, Malcolm insists that Camilla move into his own bungalow, where she learns that Nurjan is actually the cousin of Malcolm's Afghan friend Ali Shah, and that Ali Shah and Nurjan intend to marry. Camilla and Malcolm come close to acknowledging their love for one another but Malcolm pulls back, saying that he is in his late thirties while Camilla is twenty-one, and it's a mistake. Camilla yearns for him but he keeps her at a distance. Then she gets a cheerful letter from Meghan, telling her to meet Meghan at a luxurious tented compound near Ghazni. When she arrives, she sees Meghan healthy and happy and wealthy, living as a native Kuchi. Meghan discovered that her husband Tom - whom she never loved - was using heroin while they were in Afghanistan and it was the last straw regarding everything Meghan hated about modern, capitalist Western civilization, so she left him at once and went to join the Kuchi. It turned out that Meghan's Kuchi friends are the ones who killed Tom - not on Meghan's orders but because his involvement in the drug trade contributed to the destruction that it wrecked on Afghanistan. Satisfied that Meghan is safe, Camilla begins driving back to Kabul, only to be ambushed near Malcolm's house and nearly killed by Patrice and his henchmen. At the last moment Malcolm appears and intervenes, with the aid of the Kabul police, and rescues Camilla. Patrice and his men are jailed, and Malcolm and Camilla admit their love for each other and resolve to get married and live in Afghanistan together.
Best part of story, including ending:
I am embarrassed to admit I learned some things I never knew before about Afghan history from a Harlequin novel. It was also interesting to see all the Cold War references, which I only realized when another character told Camilla about how Russia bordered Afghanistan.
Best scene in story:
When Patrice and Camilla meet for the first time, and she tells him she is English, and he says, "How pleasant it is to meet a product of real civilization here in this godforsaken spot." And Camilla is "flattered by his compliments." This says everything you need to know about this great work of art that is "Call of the Heart", and possibly more than you wanted to know about the author.
Opinion about the main character:
Hate Camilla for being stupid, helpless, and badly written. The only thing I liked about Malcolm was that he was at least respectful of Afghan culture.