Duets 51 by Natalie Bishop & Darlene Gardner
(Harl. Duets 51, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44117-7
There's a fine line between humor and silliness. Duets 51 not only crosses that line, it stomps on it and sticks its tongue out as it's going across. So much foolishness predominates in these two stories that The Three Stooges, Robin Williams and Jim Carey would feel right at home. Broad brush nonsense is not the way to my funny bone.

The common theme this month is one I'd call the Tangled Web theme. Both heroines pretend to be engaged to one man while they're falling in love with another. Actually, if these two books hadn't been written with a humorous angle, I don't believe that I would have been able to finish them.

Natalie Bishop's Two Across, Two Down has a snappy title and from there the intelligence fizzes out. It's two A.M. and restaurant hostess cum struggling actress Dixie Kingston is tired. She automatically tells a customer that it's too late to be seated when she looks up and notices that it's Julian, male model extraordinaire, the latest Hollywood Hunk de jour. Here's a guy who likes to go around with his shirt unbuttoned to his navel. Think Fabio, and you'll do fine.

Julian is sooo tired of being hit on by women that he has a suggestion for Dixie. If she'll agree to be his faux fiancée and keep the sexual bimbos at bay, he'll help her with her acting career. Julian and Dixie account for the ‘two across' in the title.

The ‘two down' are Julian's brother Hank and Dixie's sister Chloe. The first morning of her engagement, Dixie meets Hank and is immediately aware that this guy is A-okay and that she's way more attracted to him than Julian. Uh oh, wrong brother! And, darn it, Dixie has promised Julian that she won't tell anybody that their engagement is a publicity gimmick. So she has to keep her attraction to Hank a secret, especially from him. Then Chloe meets Julian, and, whammo, Julian is immediately attracted to her. Uh oh, wrong sister!

See, tangled web.

Darlene Gardner's The Cupid Caper begins as Sam Creighton cuts his vacation to Florida short and returns to Philadelphia to help his younger brother, a private detective. However, his younger brother suddenly doesn't want to be found. That leaves Sam having to run the detective agency, which violates one of his cardinal rules: Thou shall not butt your nose into the business of others.

Sam is such an inept detective that he can't even break into his brother's office. Things do look up when a beautiful woman arrives, looking for his missing brother. When Sam discovers that she's his brother's fiancée, he's going to have a hard time maintaining brotherly feelings for this babe.

Mallory Jamison does want to find Sam's brother, but not for the reason she gives Sam. It's Mallory's sister who is engaged to Sam's brother, a brother who seems to have gotten cold feet. She's going against her sister's wishes and is looking for the missing fiancé. She reasons that if she tells Sam that she's the fiancée, he'll be more willing to help her look.

True to form, Mallory is attracted to Sam and knows that it's going to be hard to maintain any kind of emotional and physical distance from him. She really likes him, but knows that he'll stop the search if he finds out that Mallory isn't whom she says she is.

Mallory reminds me of do-gooder run amok. She's Dear Abby on a mission to make the world a better place. If she sees a situation that could be made better by her advice, then she gives it. She gives unsolicited advice to a clerk about his bad toupee; another person gets advice to tone down his sarcasm. By doing so, he'll improve his love life. All of this is done with kindness but it so violates Sam's rule of non-involvement that he's uncomfortable.

The Cupid Caper just left me shaking my head at the antics of Mallory. There's also a sexagenarian wannabe secretary who seems a little like Grandma Mazur, without Grandma's style or humor. These two women do not have what it takes to be romantic comedy characters. To do that, one must be funny . . . not silly or absurd.

It's easy to like Hank and Sam, the heroes of both stories. Dixie is pleasant if not too memorable, but Mallory from The Cupid Caper is somebody I'd avoid like spring pollen. It's too bad when the back blurbs are more fun than the book itself. Save yourself time, money and aggravation. Read the blurb, and then go get another book.

--Linda Mowery

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