Somebody Wonderful
by Kate Rothwell
(Zebra, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7754-8
***
Michael McCann is an Irish immigrant working as a police officer in late 19th century New York. While the department and city government are corrupt, Mick sees the job as a way to help people. When he’s not breaking up brawls in the streets, he’s taking in strays, doctoring the locals and generally being the prototypical yummy Beta hero. It is on his way home from work one evening that he comes across a young boy getting accosted by a gang of ruffians. He chases off the gang and goes to see to the lad’s wounds when he discovers the lad is really a lass!

Mick takes Timona Calverson back to his flat and immediately jumps to the conclusion that she is a working girl. Imagine his surprise when he learns that Timona is actually the well-to-do daughter of a famous explorer! Timona, having been conked on the head, awakens from her stupor and is immediately smitten with her rescuer. No doubt about it, she just has to marry the man. Now all she has to do is convince him.

Rothwell’s debut is a classic three heart book – with a lot going for it, and a lot working against it. The biggest stumbling block is Timona, whose motives and actions throughout the course of this story boggled my mind. After having been kidnapped by a pimp, thwarting a rape attempt, escaping her captors, and getting beaten by a street gang – our girl’s first thought upon awakening and finding herself in a strange man’s flat is that she wants to marry him. There’s also a lot of blathering about her eccentric father and her passion for photography, but that’s neither here nor there.

Unfortunately, Timona doesn’t improve as the story wears on – although her back-story does flesh out some. She never comes off as more than an eccentric slumming with the local indigenous tribes of New York City. Her family isn’t much better – her father is clueless to the point of being neglectful and her older brother is bizarre beyond words. Upon learning that his virtuous younger sister is living in sin with a common Irish police officer what does big brother do? Nothing! He informs Mick that “he’ll do” and that he “rather likes him.” Huh?! While their upbringing was unconventional, I had a hard time believing that a wealthy businessman would approve of his younger sister cavorting about town with an immigrant Irish cop – especially in 19th century America, which was not exactly known for its progressive attitudes!

Outside of a heroine that seems out of time and place, the rest of the story fares much better. Namely Mick, who is so wonderfully sweet, charming and caring, he should be the poster boy for Beta heroes everywhere. Make no mistake, he is the reason this book is titled Somebody Wonderful. And for those readers who think Beta equals wimp, rest assured Mick knows how to throw a punch and does a couple of times over the course of this tale.

The history here, outside of Timona’s unfathomable character, is actually pretty good. Rothwell does an admirable job evoking New York City in the late 19th century, and the corruptness of the local government at that time. The best parts of the story take place in Mick’s walk up flat surrounded by the other tenants in the immigrant slum. It’s a setting rarely evoked in a romance novel, and one the author handles well.

While Timona had me scratching my head, the rest of this tale shows promise for Rothwell, a debut author Zebra is marketing with its $3.99 program. I was originally drawn to this story for its interesting setting and a hero who wasn’t a blue blood or a cowboy – and on that score it’s a satisfying read. Too bad the our yummy Beta hero had to settle for a girl who was so ahead of her time that she and her family were utterly unbelievable.

--Wendy Crutcher


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