Friday, June 24, 2005

Great Hero, TSTL Heroine

Before I say anything else, you have to check out Monica Jackson's blog entry about the recent RWA ballot asking the question of what romance is. She's said everything I feel and so well that I won't go into it myself. I can only ask the question, how deep of a hole is RWA wanting to dig for itself, anyway?

Last night I finished my third Jennifer Crusie title, Tell Me Lies. After I write this entry, I'm going to go check out some reviews to see how my thoughts match up with those of others. See, this is how I use reviews. Not so much to make buying decisions - if I want a book no negative review will keep me from gettting it - but more to see if others agreed with my assessment once I've finished. Yeah, it's all about validation.

I have to say I was kind of disappointed with TML. I loved Bet Me, my first Crusie ever which sent me off searching for every title of hers I could get my hands on. I thought Crazy For You was very good, too. But when I tried to read Welcome To Temptation, which I've heard lauded as a classic Crusie, I just couldn't get into it. I still haven't finished WTT and am not sure I ever will.

I think I can sum up my feelings about TML by saying that I'm really glad it's not the first Crusie I picked up. I think if it had been, I'd be scratching my head right now and wondering what all the fuss was about. I mean, it was an okay read (which I will go into in a second) but it certainly wasn't much above a B- as far as grades go. In fact, in some respects I'd even drop it down to a C-.

The reason I say it was an okay read is because I finished it. As I told my dh the other night when I was turning off the light to go to sleep, the pacing of this book was incredibly slow but I still wanted to know how it all worked out. I kept waiting for the action to pick up but it never did. The story is set in a small town where time seems to have stopped, and the book reflects that feeling of inertia very well.

Just to give you a quick synopsis: Maddie Faraday has just found evidence that her high school sweetheart-turned husband is cheating on her. Because she lives in a tiny town where every single person knows everyone else's business - a sitution not helped at all by Maddie's gossip mongering mother - divorcing Brent flat out is not as simple of a solution as one might think. To further complicate matters, C.L. Sturgis, the man who Maddie had given her virginity to twenty years earlier when the two were teenagers, has come back into town to investigate Maddie's husband. Things go from bad to worse when Maddie's attraction to C.L. surfaces in a startling way and her relationship with Brent takes a very nasty turn.

I don't want to say more without offering a SPOILER warning...if you don't want to know more, stop reading here.

It takes nearly two thirds of the book, but eventually Maddie's husband turns up dead. All evidence points to Maddie as the prime murder suspect. Actually, this is probably the best thing I can say about this story. During the first two thirds, little bits of action occur that once Brent has been murdered prove to be the evidence against Maddie. What seems innocuous when it first occurs turns out to have big time meaning later in light of Brent's murder and how Maddie might have been the one to do it. We as readers know the backstory, but the police and the people of the town don't, and you can see how things don't look so good. Crusie accomplished this subtle interweaving very well, and for a long while I had no idea how Maddie would ever convince everyone of her innocence.

However, on several occasions Maddie crossed the line into TSTL territory. So much that she had me saying out loud "You idiot! What are you doing?" For example, Maddie discovers the murder weapon along with nearly a quarter million dollars in cash planted in her car. Instead of going straight to the police, she hides the gun (won't tell you how) and puts the cash in her lover's car. Now doesn't that make her look oh so innocent while at the same time setting her lover up as a possible suspect.

The other big TSTL thing Maddie did is something I absolutely hate. Maddie does some thinking and determines she might know who the real killer is. But instead of going to the police with her theory, she goes to confront the possible murderer. WTF?

I guess, overall, what I didn't like about Maddie was her lack of concern about how bad things looked for her. She knew she hadn't killed Brent, but nearly every speck of evidence pointed to her. Even so, she never acted like she had any real fear that she could end up in prison. She had kind of an "I'm innocent therefore I'm safe" attitude that just didn't jive given the circumstances. If I were Maddie, I'd have been sweating bullets, hiring the best criminal lawyers around, and doing anything in my power to help the police find the real murderer, including turning over the murder weapon.

One thing missing in this book, IMO, is Crusie's trademark humor. I didn't laugh at all while reading this story. It wasn't a dark murder mystery, and I never really worried for Maddie's future - that she might end up locked away in prison for a crime she never committed. The whole thing was just kind of there.

I do have to give big kudos to Crusie, though, for her hero C.L. Once again she's turned a normal guy into a sexy hunk. C.L. does have a dark past - he was the kid whose mother was a complete bitch and who was always viewed by the whole town at the bad seed. But he'd escaped the stifling environment of small town stereotypes to move off to the big city. Best of all, C.L. has one of those jobs that all sexy heroes have - he's an accountant!! Gotta love that. I'm married to a CPA and I spend so much time trying to convince people that he doesn't wear black socks with shorts or have a bad combover. Accountants can be just as sexy as cops and bodyguards and Navy SEALs.

I have probably ten Crusie titles sitting on my TBR shelf, most of them her series books. I think my next venture with her will be one of these. I want to find the Crusie in Bet Me, the one that's funny and who writes heroines that don't make me want to smack them upside the head.

Now I'm off to see if I'm the only one who felt this way about TML. I think I'm one of only, like, six people in the whole world who didn't love WTT, so I may just be a freak.

Edited to add: I just checked and the reviewers at AAR gave TML an A and a B+. So much for that validation I was looking for.

Edited again to add: And I have found said validation in the form of Smart Bitch Sarah and the posse that rallied around to post comments to her review (thanks SB Candy for pointing me toward the light). Looks like Crusies really are hit and miss and highly subject to personal preference. I feel so much better. Nothing like having everyone tell you to just try the clams, you'll just loooove them only to find yourself gagging into a napkin. I'm batting 50% with my Crusie choices. I'm off to give her series titles a try to see if I can improve my average.


Candy said...

Sarah reviewed this for Smart Bitches and gave it a D, precisely because of the TSTL heroine.

Me? I didn't notice the TSTL too much. Not sure why, because when people talk about it I'm all "Oh yeah! You're right, that was pretty silly of her."

MaryF said...

TML was my first Crusie. I never finished it because I hated the way her daughter was treated in the book. I did love WTT and Crazy for You, as well as Bet Me and oh, the one about the private investigator. It took me awhile after TML to pick up another Crusie book, though.