Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7616-9
Contemporary Romance, 2004
Please take note of the title. It is not A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Also please be aware that the only thing that is hard about the hero is his recalcitrance. And maybe his passivity. Which are traits shared by the heroine as well. So yes, do be aware that this book doesn’t know whether it wants to be a romance or a romantic suspense and tries to be both as if by taking a half-hearted approach to each will somehow results in one whole-hearted story. It doesn’t work that way. Jane Blackwood is a good writer but this book is the rare turkey where the hero and the heroine have absolutely zero chemistry between them. Love? Try the rocks.
This book starts out as a romantic comedy. Jaimie McLane grows up in sleepy Nortown, works as the editor in The Nortown Journal, and will most likely die in Nortown. Her life is turned topsy-turvy when former hot-shot NY Pulitzer-prizewinning journalist Harry Crandall is brought in to run the papers. He has already fired three incompetent staff members and everyone is nervous about who will be next. When Jaimie accidentally sends to print the latest edition with the headline Man Loses Cock (the actual male chicken, just to be clear) – eek. And then the story morphs into some amateur investigation tale involving Jaimie trying to look into the murder of a boy and his puppy. When the author seems to be bored with that angle, she switches back to the romance.
The thing is, this is one romance where the main characters involved absolutely do not talk at all. They actually spend more time apart, during which they are psychoanalyzing the other person and coming up with bizarre conclusions as to why they cannot be with each other. Such as like Harry’s ex conveniently showing up after Harry and Jaimie have sex (one of the most unromantic, out-of-the-blue foreplay-free “Hey, sex? Okay? Okay! BAM! DONE!” scenes I’ve ever come across) and Harry is too chicken-hearted to tell Anne to go away or tell Jaimie that he wants her, not Anne. Instead, he tells himself that he must stay away from Jaimie. Ditto with Jaimie – she comes up with equally frustrating reasons to stay away from Harry. So all the way to the last chapter, these two characters spend more time circling each other, each’s head filled with wrong ideas and assumptions about the other person, when all they need to do is to talk. I don’t get it. Isn’t a romance supposed to be about two people doing things together?
Anne is actually a far more interesting character than Jaimie because Anne at least shows some human aspects in her personality in that she has flaws that make her human. Jaimie is a straightforward goody-two-shoes heroine, often in ways that irritate me. For example, Jaimie is the classic overly-emotional nitwit who gets ridiculously overly attached to the paper she works for. Ms Blackwood has Harry telling me again and again that Jaimie is a good editor with a nose for news, but what I get in this story is Jaimie acting once more like a classic overly-emotional nitwit who can’t bring herself to fire incompetent staff or pursue angles to “sensitive news” like the murder of a boy because she thinks that the press shouldn’t intrude on people’s private emotions too much. Now, her author’s bio states that Jane Blackwood used to be a journalist so I’d like to think that she knows what she is writing about. But I’m afraid that Jaimie is hardly a shining example of a heroine who is good at what she does. Jaimie is the typical too-emotional and hence too-dimwitted heroine passed off as “virtuous and admirable” that appears in too many romance novels. Also, Jaimie’s “investigations” proves further that she is birdbrained because she is always the last to come to obvious conclusions. That is, if she even gets that far.
The mystery is a complete let-down in its resolution, with Ms Blackwood turning that angle into her soapbox for a more “respectful” media. Yes, hard-nosed journalism should all be in the style of Romantic Times, I know. The romance is a flop because Harry and Jaimie spend too much time playing silly mind-games with each other instead of talking, with very contrived conflicts popping up nilly-willy to further drive the two people apart. As I’ve said, Jane Blackwood is a good writer if her track record as Jane Goodger is taken into consideration. A Hard Man Is Good to Find, however, is all over the place and worse, the romance doesn’t just fizzle out, it practically sputters out and dies on the spot somewhere around the 100th page.