|When I read Jane Blackwood’s A Hard Man Is Good to Find, I was reminded of my latest Fourth of July holiday celebration. Like a particularly disappointing firework, this book started with a bang but quickly fizzled.
Jaimie McLane is an editor for the Nortown Journal, where she has worked for twelve years. For most of that time, Paul Mayer ran the paper. He retired after persuading Harry Crandall to take over the job. It hasn’t been a smooth transition. Harry fired three reporters of the Journal. The other staff members are worried and they encourage Jaimie to befriend Harry.
Harry has his own set of problems. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, but he was forced to leave his job when several of his articles were published with inaccuracies. He suspects that he was set up, but he can’t prove it. To make matters worse, the woman he was living with left him for another man. Now Harry feels numb: “Noncaring was a symptom for the rest of his lousy life.”
A Hard Man Is Good to Find gets off to a promising start. The first line suggests that this story is a comedy: “Jaimie McLane stared at the headline — ‘Man Loses Cock’ — for the tenth time wishing somehow it would just disappear and wishing just as hard no one would notice it.” The attention-getting headline about “a local farmer who lost his prize Rhode Island Red rooster” was meant as a joke and was never intended to run. But “comedy” isn’t the right word for most of this book. While the characters are initially intriguing — Jaimie is strong and interesting while Harry is mysterious and multidimensional — the story ultimately sinks under the weight of its clichés.
Many of the secondary characters aren’t realistic people as much as they are walking, talking plot devices. For example, Harry’s ex enters the scene just after he and Jaimie have sex. Just in time. Paul in particular causes much of the conflict. When Jaimie and Harry need to argue, Paul tells them he was supplementing the paper with his own income for three years and didn’t tell anyone. Oops! Sorry he didn’t mention that before. When a separation threat is needed, Paul tells them that the paper must be sold. I started cringing whenever I read Paul’s name.
Jaimie and Harry are models of conflict for conflict’s sake. She falls in love with him. Harry is still upset about his breakup with Anne (the ex), so when he realizes what Jaimie feels, he backs off. Then he decides that he loves her, but he can’t be with her because he’s going back to New York. Do they talk about their feelings? No. Much of the book’s conflict lies in the fact that they don’t communicate. This isn’t enough to sustain the story or this reader’s interest.
Then there’s Jaimie’s tendency to wish for her life to follow cinematic conventions. Sometimes these fantasies include dialogue; at other times they are only narrative, such as “She looked into his face and smiled, and he looked stunned, as if he’d never seen her before. A man who’d found himself deeply and inexplicably in love. Key up music.” While creative, these descriptions simply underscore the fact that Jaimie and Harry don’t talk to each other to resolve the problems.
A Hard Man Is Good to Find shows promise. However, the should-I-tell him/her-or-shouldn’t-I plot keeps this book from being one you should go out of your way to find.