Gentleman Caller
by Bobby Hutchinson, contemporary (2002)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52500-3

Our heroine Maxine Bleckner operates a 1800 phone sex line from home. You may recognize her as "India McBride", sexy 24-year old babe, when in reality she is 28 and a single mother who is most likely changing the diapers of her ten-month old baby boy as she is working her clients into an orgasm. The hero is Harold "Harry" Watson. He writes for a tabloid. While he is pretending to be enjoying India McBride's oral skills, he is at the same time trying to stop his three-year old daughter from saying the F word as she destroys her father's watch.

It will remain a biggest mystery how a book with a premise like this can end up being so boring. Like too many stories featuring "bold and sexy" premises, it somehow mutates into a morality tale, something like Good Women Don't Operate Phone Sex Lines. I don't think my reaction - looking into getting my own 1800-phone thing so that hubby and I can take turn making money from gullible horny losers out there only to learn that such businesses are illegal in Singapore - is supposed to be "normal".

This book is deceptive. It starts out very good: the hilarious contradiction between Maxine and her gray-haired assistant and the personalities they create for the phone sex service is very effective, and lil' Sadie's using the F very correctly to insult her babysitter makes me giggle despite my best judgment.

But of course, our hero and heroine are "meeting" under deceptive fronts. He wants to write an expose about the phone sex business and she worries that he wants India and not Maxine. They meet, and this is not even midway through the book, and they are so good together, et cetera, that the story immediately falls into a bog. I say a bog because from thereon I am hit with increasingly tedious and familiar conflicts revolving around the heroine's insecurities and hang-ups about her job. Where is the confident woman in the beginning? Bring that Maxine back. This Maxine is boring me to sleep.

And of course, phone sex is bad. Maxine and her two friends find their loved ones who then magnanimously accept their "shameful" life and marry them. I have to bite my tongue to keep my bile from spewing forth when Maxine makes a weepy confession about how she and India are separate because she doesn't think she is sexy but India is the sexy one... er, wait a minute. Anyway, basically she all but goes down on her knees to repent for her "sins". And of course, all the phone sex ladies quit their jobs, probably to become full-time soccer moms who watch Oprah religiously and weep when another idiot gets redeemed in Touched By An Angel.

The men, though, get to keep their jobs. Writing for tabloids is so much more noble than being a phone ho.

But when I look at the pile of dirty dishes and calculate that I can probably earn a few hundred bucks a night talking to horny toads at the other line while watching TV or surfing porn, I mean, recipes online and calculate how I can easily hire a maid to do everything from my side income, I curse the prudes in the Parliament for making it illegal for us harmless old ladies from making money the easiest way possible. Being a phone ho sure beats telemarketing, for one.

If you can't tell by now, I'm probably standing too far left of the center dogma to appreciate the wholesome family values theme of this book. Phone hos touched by the Mighty Man into seeing the Light. Ooh! When Maxine hangs up her phone in exchange for aprons and a lifetime of Chlorox and Easi-Klean, can I take over her job?

Rating: 71

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