Long Southern Nights

Manhunting in Memphis

Mr. December

The Good, the Bad & the Cuddly
by Heather MacAllister
(Harl. Tempt. #757, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-25857-7
This is one time that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover -- or the title, either. The good, our heroine, thinks that even though she's a preacher's kid, she must be a changeling. She's got a little too much devil in her. The bad, our hero, may think he's rotten and unworthy of love, but he hasn't found the right woman . . . yet. And the cuddly, the heroine's nephew, isn't really central to the story. Persevere, ignore the baby on the cover plus the silly title, and you'll find that you have a cheery, lively addition to the holiday lineup.

Maddie Givens is having a tough time finding a parking place near the community center run by her parents. So she's relegated to driving around the block, looking for any empty spot and imagining how satisfying it would be to let the air out the tires of a car that's taking up two prime parking spots. Although she's a preacher's kid, she figures that she broke the mold. Maddie is only there to help out her sister, home with the flu. Maddie will be Mary in the Christmas pageant dress rehearsal and her nephew Luke will be baby Jesus. Those are the plans, anyway.

Maddie finally parks her car and is bringing costumes in for the rehearsal when she meets two inept villains who are thankfully written with a light touch. They're depriving a village somewhere of idiots. Things go from bad to worse as they end up stealing her car . . . with her nephew still in it.

Insurance investigator Steve Jackson has trailed his suspects to the community center and has been spending time there, keeping them in sight. The two men he's tailing, prime suspects in the theft of gold doubloons, have stolen a car right from under its owner's nose. Before he can pursue them on his motorcycle, Steve has a passenger. Maddie is going with him, and that's all there is to it.

From here on, the story moves at a good pace. Steve, Maddie and baby Luke find themselves locked in a storage bin, but we're never worried, knowing that the dumb wit duo are their jailers. More about Steve and Maddie's backgrounds are revealed, cluing us in on their baggage and their preconceptions about committed relationships.

The first rate dialog and the good-natured humor appealed to me from the beginning. Maddie and Steve first meet at her family's soup kitchen. Steve is there watching the two villains. When Steve offers to pay for the meal, Maddie tries to turn down the ten dollars he's offering.
"We don't charge for meals here."
Steve stuffs his money on a can he sees on the shelf.
"That's the cussing can," she told him.
"It was a damn good bowl of chili," he said, and walked out.

Maddie is a delight as she contemplates seducing Steve. It's great when she puts condoms in both bedside tables, almost like a boy scout who's prepared for everything. Maddie's mixture of savviness and innocence is a combination that Steve ultimately can't resist.

True, the story has its weak points. Steve's fear of commitment which stems from his father's abuse toward his mother, is a bit far fetched, considering that Steve views himself a chip off the old block. He's sure that because he almost hit his ex-wife once, he's a low life. If we were held responsible for things we almost did, we'd all be on the wrong side of the bars. Maddie's relatives are so self-righteous, so upright as to be caricatures. They didn't seem moral, only moralistic. And the mystery fizzles, but it never seemed that important anyway.

If a story that's sweet and funny, with good-hearted central characters appeals to you, you can't go wrong with The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly. It's a welcome addition to the Christmas lineup of books.

--Linda Mowery

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