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The Trouble With Valentine's Day

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Truly Madly Yours

Sex, Lies and Online Dating
by Rachel Gibson
(Avon, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-06-077291-3
I accept that you have to take things with a grain of salt in romance novels. After all, we read them as an escape from reality. However, the premise of Sex, Lies and Online Dating would have required me to swallow the entire contents of the Dead Sea. I just couldn’t do it. And when I stop and mutter “Oh puh-leeze!” every few pages over a book’s implausible plot, it’s a sure bet that the romance isn’t going to work for me either.  

Far-fetched premise number one: mystery writer Lucy Rothschild decides to date men she’s met online as research for her latest novel,, so she can figure out ways to kill them – fictionally, of course. What ever happened to using your creativity and imagination? After many disastrous dates, she plans her final assignation with “hardluvnman” Quinn McIntyre, a widowed plumber who is surprisingly handsome and charming.  

Far-fetched premise number two: Quinn is really a detective in the Boise police department, on the hunt for a female serial killer nicknamed “Breathless.” The only connection between the victims thus far is the fact that they all participated in online dating, so Quinn goes undercover as a lonely guy looking for love, hoping to snare the killer before she strikes again. He’ll go as far as it takes…even if he has to seduce Breathless and let her try to snuff him out. What ever happened to gathering enough evidence to arrest the suspect without having to exchange bodily fluids?  

Far-fetched premise number three: Quinn strongly suspects that Lucy is the killer. She knows details about the crimes that haven’t been released to the public, and she’s smart enough to have gotten away with it so far. And yet he’s still attracted to her! God, she’s hot! And final far-fetched premise number four (the one that almost sent the book flying across the room): Lucy realizes that the man she has fallen in love with believes she could be a cold-blooded murderer who suffocates men after having sex with them. Sure, she’s mad, but she can’t help winding up in his arms and then moving in with him so he can protect her from the real killer. Ain’t love grand? What’s a little suspicion of murder when Quinn has gorgeous brown eyes and fabulous pecs?  

Maybe I could accept one or two of these scenarios, but unfortunately my belief can only be stretched so far without snapping and giving me a big fat headache. In the midst of this silliness, the identity of the real villain is telegraphed so loudly that the person might as well be wearing a “hello I like to kill men” t-shirt.  

It’s regrettable that the novel’s plot is so flimsy, because the major characters aren’t bad. Lucy doesn’t have much personality besides romance novel heroine perkiness, but she manages to hold her own at book signings and encounters with psychopaths. Quinn utilizes a bit of too much of that “love will never happen because I’m a workaholic tough-ass policeman” shtick, but he’s a decent guy at heart with some sexy moves and sweet, romantic gestures once he realizes that Lucy couldn’t kill a fly. From what I’ve read about Gibson’s previous novel, The Trouble With Valentine’s Day, he’s a vast improvement over her last hero. The secondary characters are largely limited to the Lucy’s three sequel-bait best friends, one of whom steps front and center in the book’s epilogue so we’ll dutifully trot out and buy her story next.  

I’ve largely avoided contemporary romance novels for the past few years because I have no tolerance for inane storylines like this one. Gibson is a capable enough writer, however, whose R-rated love scenes rarely cross the line into purple prose. So if you can suspend your disbelief long enough, and don’t require realism in your romance, Sex Lies and Online Dating might be more your cup of tea.  

--Susan Scribner

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