Hot Finish by Erin McCarthy
(Berkley, $7.99, R) ISBN 978-0-425-23594-2
Hot Finish is the third and latest entry in the author’s Fast Track series which features NASCAR drivers and their lady loves.  It suffers somewhat from series-itis where characters from the previous books clutter up the landscape, but it mostly stands on its own.  Well, as much as it stands at all. 

In the opening scene, Ryder Jefferson is discussing the upcoming wedding of another driver with a group of his racing buddies. He’s agreed to be the groom’s best man but is on the verge of chickening out.  None of the men has a high opinion of the bride, and they all have doubts about the match.  Ryder’s problem is that the wedding planner is his ex-wife Suzanne, and since she’s refused to take alimony, he wants her to make a success of her business. 

Suzanne’s problems are two-fold: the bride is a classic (and way over-used) bridezilla, and she wants to be free of Ryder, the man she couldn’t live with and can’t get over.  Whenever they’re together they do nothing but fight. 

As the wedding planning continues and the details get wackier and wackier, Suzanne’s problems increase.  It seems that Ryder failed to sign a crucial document for their divorce so they’re still married.   

This is an unusually short plot synopsis because Hot Finish is short on plot. It’s at most a 150-page story line stretched to 284 pages. That means that there’s little forward movement and a lot of repetition. Moreover, the plot never deviates from the obvious course set from the outset. 

It’s never quite clear why Ryder and Suzanne wanted to divorce in the first place because those old feelings are still running hot. As are their tempers. We’re supposed to believe that these are nice people who love each other deeply, but too much of the story involves Ryder and Suzanne fighting. And fighting. And fighting. Give these people a marriage counselor and some negotiation training!  

What the surprise-we’re-still-married plot (which has to have been used far more often in fiction than has ever occurred in real life) offers is the opportunity for the hero and heroine to demonstrate — in physical terms -- they still want to be together. Again and again.The attraction between Ryder and Suzanne never died; it’s a given they’ll be seizing that opportunity. Again and again. 

This is the even shorter plot synopsis. The NASCAR hunks are testosterone-charged. Any babe who’s part of the scene is gorgeous. The sex is hot. The reconciliation is inevitable. The bride is a cartoon stereotype. Repeat and repeat before Hot Finish grinds to a long-overdue conclusion. 

Readers are advised to think twice before choosing this one. 

--Lesley Dunlap

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