Anyone But You

The Cinderella Deal

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Tell Me Lies

Trust Me On This

Welcome to Temptation

Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie
(St. Martinís, $24.95, R) ISBN 0-312-25261-7
Wise and witty. Those are two words that came to me as I was trying to characterize Jennifer Crusieís new novel. We expect witty from this author; she can write funny dialogue and create humorous situations as well as anyone writing today. But what struck me about Fast Women was the wisdom with which Crusie dealt with the emotions and behavior of her characters. When a story leaves me feeling that I have learned something important about life and love, then I know that the book will be a keeper for me.

Crusie has woven a complex story that centers on the lives and loves of the Dysart women. Nell, Suze and Margie have each married a Dysart brother, with less than felicitous results. A year and a half earlier, Nellís husband Tim informed her that he didnít love her anymore and walked out on a twenty-two year marriage. Seven years earlier, Margieís husband Stewart disappeared after embezzling money from the law firm owned by her father, Trevor Ogilvie. Fourteen years earlier, eighteen year old Suze had married forty year old Jack and now fears that she will face the fate of his first two wives - dumped for turning thirty.

The story opens with Nellís applying for a job at McKenna Investigations. The senior partner, Gabe McKenna, had mentioned to Jack Dysart that he needed a temporary secretary and Jack had sent over his ex-sister-in-law who is still reeling from the divorce. Despite a not particularly auspicious interview, Gabe hires Nell. After all, Ogilvie and Dysart is his biggest client.

Nell is a mess. She has lost weight and canít seem to find her footing. Her sisters-in-law and her son are all worried about her. Her new job turns out to be just the place for her to make use of the organizational skills she previously employed to make her exís insurance business the top firm in Ohio. Boy, does the agency need organizing! The decor is out of the fifties, the previous secretary was embezzling the petty cash, the coffee is terrible, and the place needs a thorough cleaning. There is one problem; Gabe wants to keep things just the way they are.

Gabe isnít into change. He hasnít even changed his love life, even though he and his wife Chloe have been divorced for ten years. So he is taken aback when Chloe informs him that itís time to move on and that she thinks his new secretary, a Virgo to his Taurus, may just be the right woman for him.

The plot thickens when Nell discovers a box containing the deed to the 1977 Porsche that Gabe inherited from his father. It turns out that Trevor Ogilvie signed over the car to his dad in 1978 for $1.00. Gabe starts to wonder what his dad did for Trevor that warranted such a generous gift. Does it have anything to do with the blackmail threat that is currently worrying the guys at Ogilvie and Dysart? Does it have something to do with Margieís motherís suicide? And when the ex-secretary turns up dead, whatís the connection?

I should note that Fast Women is not a conventional romance novel. Oh, thereís a romance all right, and itís a good one. Gabe and Nell clash their way into a hot love affair thatís the best thing that ever happened to either of them. But these are two strong-willed people who have to learn the art of compromise and have to get over their pasts.

Nor is Fast Women a romantic suspense novel. Oh, thereís suspense and danger all right, and itís done well. The gradual uncovering of what really happened all those years ago plays an important role in the story.

Nor is a romantic comedy. Oh, thereís lots and lots of humor in the story. The dog-napping scene is a stitch and itís only one of many laugh-out-loud moments in the book. Nobody does clever dialogue better than Crusie.

Then what is Fast Women? Well, it sort of defies categorization. I could wax philosophical and say that itís a story about the resilience of the human spirit, a story about personal growth and the importance of self-knowledge and all that kind of stuff. And it is. But most of all, Fast Women is a book that I sat down and read right through and then sat back down and read it again. I donít do that very often.

--Jean Mason

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