Gentleman Caller by Bobby Hutchinson
(LoveSpell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52500-3
***
Phone sex has to be one of the most unusual creations of modern technology: completely safe and completely anonymous, it proves once and for all that the brain is the most important sexual organ. But what’s behind the sexy voice on the phone? What is the reality? That’s the story behind Gentleman Caller.

Maxine Bleckner is a single mom whose fiancé abandoned her when she got pregnant, taking her savings with her. Desperate to find a way to support herself, she answered an ad and found herself the object of strange men’s fantasies. Thanks to her wonderful voice and her vivid imagination, she now finds herself running her own home-based business. So successful has she become that she has hired another woman to take the night shift. Which brings us to the paradox.

As her alter ego India, Maxine seems like a sexy temptress to her callers all the while she is taking care of baby Graham. She is not the tall, built 24 year old blonde India dressed in a sexy outfit but rather a 28 year old redhead in a sweat suit whose waist will never recover from pregnancy. Her employee Edna is not Lilith, but rather a 53 year old “displaced homemaker” whose lawyer ex left her for a younger woman and cheated her out of a decent settlement. Ah, the power of imagination.

Harry Watson is a thirty-something writer who gave up his full-time job so that he could take care of his motherless daughter. When the editor of the local tabloid suggests that he do a story on phone sex, Harry can’t say no. He needs the money. On his fifth try, he links up with “India” and he is intrigued by the voice he hears on the line. He also discovers that “India” is local, which helps with his assignment.

India/Maxine is intrigued by “Harold;” instead of wanting the usual sexy patter, he wants to talk about her - what she thinks, what she reads, what she feels. When Harold suggests that they meet, Maxine throws caution to the wind and agrees. Their first encounter is not a success. But fate intervenes and the two meet again in their real personas at the local play school. Harry finds the real Maxine more attractive than her alter ego; Maxine finds the real Harry more admirable and interesting than the international businessman he pretended to be.

Harry knows that he should ‘fess up about why he first called, but he leaves it too late. Hence, the conflict in the story.

Both the hero and the heroine are admirable characters who are making the best of difficult situations. Maxine is the daughter of a straight-laced and judgmental minister who felt she could not go home when she got pregnant. She has discovered another side of herself in India, one she does not quite know what to make of. She has every reason to distrust men, so her reaction to Harry’s confession makes sense. Harry is a truly decent fellow and he is satisfactorily penitent about his deception.

The secondary characters are likewise interesting, especially Edna’s and Maxine’s lawyer, Polly who has her own hang-ups and her own romance. Polly deals all the time with women who have been mistreated by the male sex. No wonder she doesn’t believe in love and happy ever after. Hutchinson manages to make both Maxine and Edna strong characters, even though both have been victims of men. Both picked themselves up and started over, even if the means they use are a bit unusual.

Gentleman Caller is a bit too predictable, but its interesting premise and characters make it an acceptable contemporary romance.

--Jean Mason


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