Chasing Alfie by Sandra August
(Leisure, 4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4566-4
When I received this book for review, I decided it was the dopiest title I had ever heard. But stupid title aside, I firmly believe in not judging a book by its cover. However, I knew it was all downhill when I started to laugh in disbelief before the end of the first chapter.

It’s 1872, and L.V. Foster is a journalist for The Denver Empire. Her boss has decided to send her to boom town Glitter Creek, Colorado, on assignment. Two miners have been murdered and their deaths have been blamed on an Indian ghost. L.V. thinks the ghost story is preposterous, but is looking for her big break, and decides that Glitter Creek could be it.

On the stagecoach ride L.V. meets Brian Reed of Reed Investigations. He specializes in supernatural phenomena and has been hired by the mine owner to uncover the truth about the supposed Indian ghost. Also on the stagecoach is Katherine Abbott, five years old and newly orphaned. Katherine is traveling alone to live with an aunt who is not expecting her. It’s shortly after these principal characters are introduced that my laughter started.

Due to her aunt’s circumstances Katherine cannot live with her, so Reed and L.V. are saddled with the cutesy, annoying child who speaks with a lisp and calls Brian “Mr. Weed” and L.V. “Alfie.” I honestly tried to give this character a fighting chance, but “Katie” evoked my gag reflex when she started calling Reed “Daddy” by page 38. It became all too apparent what Katherine’s role was in this novel: bring L.V. and Reed together to form a happy family. Why did the author feel the need to add an annoying child to the equation? Wouldn’t the fact that Reed and L.V. were investigating the exact same story be enough to bring them together?

Brian Reed’s character development is all over the map. At first, he is aloof, preoccupied with his work, and gives the impression that he is not fond of children. However, by page 85 he is buying Katherine clothes and is relishing his new role as “Daddy.” In one breath, he tells L.V. his job is to prove the ghost’s existence and not to solve murders, then he’s off investigating a possible suspect in the murders! The nail in our hero’s coffin is when he decides to call L.V. “Alfie” -- even during romantic scenes.

But even when the hero is bipolar, a good heroine can save almost any doomed romance novel. Too bad L.V. doesn’t rise to the occasion. A female journalist in 1872 who investigates murders and willingly goes to observe the dead bodies sounds very unconventional to me. However, L.V. frowns in distaste when Reed dresses Katherine in pants. So, it’s okay for a woman to have a job and look at dead people but not for little girls to wear pants? How can L.V. have such a feminist stance on career women but not on something as trivial as little girls’ clothing? And L.V. is supposed to be an independent career woman, but as soon as she decides to stay in Glitter Creek a little longer than planed, she writes her father for money. She has a job, why does she have to ask her father for money?

The secondary characters could have jumped off the screen of a spaghetti western. The local brothel is home to a group of brash prostitutes, the sheriff is incompetent, and when the miners aren’t looking for their fortunes, they’re all drunk in the saloon. I found myself reading 310 pages full of cliches.

Adding to my frustration was the fact that I had the ghost mystery solved by chapter 3. The plot fell apart right along with the characters, making this novel muddled and messy. A badly paced mystery I can almost forgive, but badly written characters make for bad romance.

--Wendy Crutcher

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