The Irish Devil
by Diane Whiteside
(Brava, $14.00, NC-17) ISBN 0-7582-0792-1
***
It’s fairly well known in TRR circles that I have two passions when it comes to my romance reading – westerns and erotica. And Lord help when I heard about The Irish Devil I nearly wept with joy. A western published by Brava? Could my life possibly get any better? Turns out – it could.

William Donovan is a self-made man living in Arizona. He’s made oodles of money owning his own freight company – but what he really craves is respectability. See, William is Irish and no matter how hard he works, how smart he is, or how sober he stays, the well-heeled in society will see him nothing more as drunken, uncouth, Irish lout unfit to marry their daughters.

Viola Ross’ life is spinning out of control. After her drunken husband went and got murdered, Viola moved in with another widow and took in laundry to make ends meet. Then the same man who murdered Viola’s husband buys off her roommate. Our villain takes possession of what very little Viola owns and demands they be married. Not especially keen on marrying a murderer, Viola explores the only other option she feels is left to her.

She approaches William Donovan and offers up her services as a potential mistress. William is intrigued – given that he has admired and lusted after Viola, but felt he was too unworthy to approach her. The two strike up a bargain – William will protect Viola, give her an allowance, and in exchange she will spend three months servicing his needs. And boy howdy – our guy has a lot of needs to be met.

Now this all sounds intriguing doesn’t it? And The Irish Devil certainly starts out with a lot of promise. Viola may be backed into a corner, but she’s no shrinking violet. She’s strong, determined, and feisty enough to slice the villain’s hand open with a broken whiskey bottle. William is sexy, enterprising, and carrying around some emotional baggage from his boyhood in Ireland.

Too bad the whole thing begins to roll down hill the minute these two hook up. Viola goes from feisty to simpering idiot. She’s strong and determined when faced with our villain, but then blushes prettily and calls William “Mr. Donovan” or “Sir.” William goes from intriguing to icky by immediately referring to Viola as “sweetheart” or worse still as his “filly.” I found myself insulted for all of womankind.

The author employs the use of flashbacks to flesh out both William’s and Viola’s pasts. This is all well and good – but it takes until page 200 for them to share any sort of meaningful conversation. All these two do prior to that are have sex and deal with the villain. I wanted to scream, “Talk damn you! Talk!” more than once.

The sex scenes follow along the thread of domination and submission – which is normally not one of my personal ick buttons. However, given William’s “sweetheart” and “filly” pet name tendencies, coupled with his ordering Viola how to dress and act – well it got icky pretty quick. Viola seems to get off on all of this, but her simpering act continues to be too much to take – especially when she goes back into feisty mode in a later scene when she’s brandishing a shotgun to defend William.

However after a fabulous start, and an extremely shaky middle, things do get better with that shotgun scene and the ending is well done. There’s enough external conflict to keep the plot humming along outside of the marathon boinking – it’s just too bad the characters were schizophrenic and non-communicative. Erotic sex scenes can be a lot of fun to read – but there also needs to be a natural development to the characters’ relationship in order for the reader to believe in the happily-ever-after. Whiteside does get around to all of this in the final 80 pages, but the sagging and problematic middle is hard to forget.

--Wendy Crutcher


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