A Case of Nerves by Angie Kay
(Lovespell, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52312-4
***
This one just misses the mark thanks to a heroine so wishy-washy that I found myself wanting to climb within the pages and, ala Cher in "Moonstruck," slap her across the face and shout, "Snap out of it!" It's a shame, too, because much of what goes on in A Case of Nerves is both different and entertaining. The author has created a plausible reincarnation-themed love story and sprinkled it liberally with modern psychoanalysis and some good old fashioned passion. But the strength of the background, as well as the location and dialogue are almost undone by a too-passive heroine who never really asserts herself until the final chapters. By then it was almost too late.

From the very beginning, I found myself wanting to pull the heroine out of her trance, even though the explanation for Dr. Kate MacGillvray's current emotional weakness is a good one. After watching yet another young victim of street violence die in a busy Philadelphia ER, Kate loses her nerve. It's one trauma too many. Adding insult to injury, her philandering fiancé Evan has decided she is frigid and dumped her for another Doc. Seeking refuge, Kate flees to her ancestral home of Scotland and is quickly caught up in an intense relationship where past and present are inexplicably intertwined.

Dr. Alec Lachlan seems to appear out of the mist at Culloden, the sacred Scottish battlefield where legions of doomed Highlanders, Kate's forefathers included, met their deaths. There is an instantaneous spark between Alec and Kate that only intensifies as they go off exploring together. It is in passing that Alec makes a reference to his dislike of female doctors – based on some past romantic history. Kate has already become so enamored of the strapping Scot that she chooses to keep her medical background a secret.

Though Kate has barely set foot in Scotland, she is caught up in a whirlwind romance with Alec that takes on an even deeper significance when she begins dreaming of the places she's seeing – Alec's cottage, his family farm – but dreaming of them as someone else, in a time long ago. It seems the fates of Alec and Kate are linked to those of Alasdair and Catriona MacLachlan, whose lives, like so many of their Highland brethren, were torn apart at Culloden.

Neither Kate nor Alec can know that uncovering the significance of past events will have a tremendous impact on their own futures. What gets in the way is Kate's repeated evasion of the truth. It goes without saying that when Alec discovers her secret, "the big misunderstanding" ensues. To top things off, Evan the ex-fiancé shows up just in the nick of time with a convenient memory lapse – he doesn't seem to recall that he and Kate have split up. Things appear to be so irreconcilable with Alec that Kate leaves Scotland with her tail between her legs – a martyr to her love.

Baloney. I never for one second believed that a woman strong enough to be an emergency room doctor wouldn't have the guts to stand up and assert herself. And it doesn't happen just once – it happens numerous times throughout the course of the book. Kate allows herself to be victimized by just about everything in sight – her job, her fiancé, her future mother-in-law, Alec – and barely lifts a finger in defense of herself. Yes, she eventually comes out of her stupor and takes control of her life, but for much of the action Kate acts as if she is caught in a spell or sleepwalking – allowing herself to be pushed or pulled to everyone else's will. I understood it, but given Kate's independent background it became incredibly distracting, particularly the fact that she spends more than half her trip wearing someone else's clothes instead of sleepwalking herself over to her suitcase, which is only a couple of miles away. Even more bothersome was the fact that the only "protection" mentioned between Drs. Kate and Alec before they make love is contraception – this despite what Kate knows about her fiancé sleeping with half the hospital,. I found that an appalling oversight.

And yet there is great promise in much of what goes on in A Case of Nerves. Author Angie Kay's affection for history is as apparent as her medical background (she's a physician in New York). Her treatment of historical events is reverential, and the story moves quite well between the past and present thanks to a real knack for plotting. The love scenes between Alec and Kate definitely leaned towards the energetic side, which made the proceedings more palatable in the face of the continual, almost unbearably trite references to "Brigadoon."

But like I said, much of what is contained in A Case of Nerves is very entertaining. The author has an easy-going style and she ably captures the many of the nuances of a burgeoning romance. She's an author I would definitely be interested in keeping an eye on.

--Ann McGuire


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