The Damsel in This Dress

Midnight in the Garden
of Good & Evie

Sighs Matter by Marianne Stillings
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-073483-3
This book has a great opening – I suspect Ms. Stillings will sell a lot of books to readers who get hooked on the opening pages. The pace eventually falters, however, thanks to tepid villains and an over-reliance on romance clichés.

Claire Hunter and Taylor McKennitt shared a single, very hot night eight months ago. Taylor thought it might be the start of something, but Claire left abruptly the morning after and has been avoiding him ever since. Taylor got the message.

Unfortunately, for Claire anyway, her dotty Aunt Sadie is dating a mortician who may be involved in something shady involving contraband body parts, and Taylor is part of the investigating team. When someone who may or may not be involved in that business runs Claire off the road while she’s driving Sadie’s truck, Taylor takes an even more personal interest in the case. Much to Claire’s chagrin.

Okay, kudos to the author for a plot that’s easy to summarize. So many books I’ve read recently have incredibly complicated situations that require a boatload of backstory downloaded in painstaking detail, something I personally find a huge yawn. Instead, Ms. Stillings has given us a very clean storyline that’s about these characters and what’s happening to them right now.

Having said that, however, I do have a gripe. For my money, the most interesting thing that happened to this hero and heroine was the night of fabulous sex after which Claire walked away. I’m not saying that’s where this book should have started, I’m saying that it was a bit of a letdown that, during the course of this book, nothing happened to match that spectacular event. Which isn’t in this book.

The writing is more entertaining than the slightly clunky play on words in the title (which has nothing to do with anything that happens in the book, by the way), although the flippant tone makes a slightly uneasy companion to the suspense plot about trafficking in stolen body parts. The humor relies heavily on puns and a breezy attitude, although there are some t-t-truly witty m-m-moments.

Taylor is an attractive romantic hero: charming and hunky but also possessed of a self-deprecating sense of humor (oddly, characters in romantic comedies do not always have a sense of humor, so this was nice to see). He has some depth, but he’s not an overly complicated guy – he wants Claire so he goes after her. I understood why Claire wanted to have sex with him (who wouldn’t?) but I never did know why she just had to spend the rest of her life with him. He’s nice, but he’s pretty much out of romance central casting.

As is Claire, but in a less interesting way. It was difficult for me to stay interested in her once I realized that her primary objection to getting involved with the sexy, funny guy pursuing her was that he was a cop, and, since her father and brother were either killed or seriously injured in the line of duty, she’s sworn never to get involved with a cop. This unimpressive motivation was marginally interesting the first time a romance storyteller used it, sometime back in the days when cops fought crime with stone axes. Now, it’s just tedious.

Things happen to Claire and Taylor during the course of the book, but you couldn’t say that they change much, which would have made them more interesting. They generate a lot of heat, though, so their romance is steamy and fun to read. It’s a good thing that it’s the focus of most of the book, because too many bad guys diffuse the focus of the suspense story. Although there are some nice suspenseful moments and some surprises, it also loses momentum thanks to the fact that one villain is a nut job who’s chosen Claire pretty much at random, and one is an inept doofus. Neither creates much sense of real danger.

If the familiar elements of this book are things that make romance a comfort read for you, then you’ll likely find an enjoyable escape. If you’re looking for an original change of pace, sorry, but you’ll have to keep looking.

-- Judi McKee

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