Fanning The Flame
by Kat Martin, historical (2002)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-1916-2

I wish I still have my hymen. If I still have it, watch me take up an AK-47 and charge into Kat Martin's house. I'll take that TV, thank you, and that stereo too, and what's this? You know, I'll take everything, and if it's nailed to the floor, I'll wave my gun and make Kat Martin de-nail it for my taking. When they arrest me, I'll bestow my precious virginity on that handsome defense lawyer of mine, Nick Fallin, and then he'll know I'm innocent and pure. Because I am! Innocent and pure! I am a VIRGIN, you cannot prosecute me! I AM A VIRGIN! Okay, was, but you get the idea.

Because that's how the game is played in Fanning The Flame. Who cares about character development? Jillian Whitney, whose mother had to be hanging for dear life from the roof of a Japanese bullet train when she popped out Jillian, because that must be the only explanation of Jillian's complete inability to T-H-I-N-K, is a virgin. When the hero Adam Hawthorne suspects her of being a slut and a murderess, all is resolved when his mighty togo stick fenestrates our heroine's holy piece of hymen. Ms Martin may as well have sparks of purity shooting out of our heroine's nether orifice at that Beautiful Moment of Reassurance of Holy Female Purity as a blindingly glorious halo forms around our heroine's head the moment the hymen flies out of her to expand and suffocate our obnoxious hero to death, giant hymenic condom style. Oops, the last sentence is just a figment of my imagination. Sorry if I get you too excited.

Jillian Whitney wants to marry for L-O-V-E. In romance novel speak, that's code for "I'm staying with a Sugar Daddy who's like a Daddy to me and we play chess in the evenings, and no, we are not having sex because I am waiting for true L-O-V-E!". When her Sugar Daddy is murdered, our heroine is shocked. This leads her into a state of hapless speech dysfunction, where for the next few chapters she is s-s-s-s-s-stuttering like... a... slow-witted... stut-t-terer every time she speaks. Get your nerves of steel ready.

Of course, everyone believes her to be a slut who is just sleeping with one - ONE - old man. Our hero Adam, who sleeps with a zillion sluts after losing a cheating slut he claimed to love in the past, is not a slut though. He's... uh, the hero, yeah, the hero. As he investigates the crime, he is so hot for this woman he believes to be a slut. After all, she has this halo of purity around her (read: she stutters, hyperventilates, stammers, and takes long pauses as she tries to construct anything more than three worded sentences), and we all know virgins are incapable of any sin in this world.

On page 8, Jillian claims she doesn't care what gossips say about her. On page 13, she is so sad that Adam and his friend think her a slut. Kat Martin, always a very subtle and elegant writer, has "Dear God, if they didn't find out who the real killer was, she could yet wind up in prison!" on page 59. Gee, after Jillian lies ineptly about her whereabouts that night a few dozen pages back, I'm glad it takes her about 40 pages to finally realize that. But then again, holed up in Adam's house, she naturally is too distracted with pursuits of enlightenment, like running into Adam's bedroom for no reason - I'm not joking - only to gasp at him naked as a result. This takes place at least twice in this story, and I think Ms Martin calls this "sexual tension". That's right, people, run into the bedroom of the man who half-suspects you of murder and stare at him like a freaky weirdo with goo-goo eyes. I hope Jillian's cell mate is called Big Lesbo Booty.

Jillian remains a complete braindead heroine to the bitter end. She doesn't have to prove herself though. Adam is convinced of her innocence at last after the initial splitting of her, uh, Red Sea - light dawns, shooting out from the end of Jillian's tunnel, and he is convinced as his manna rains from his priapric stratosphere. Here is thy innocence! Here is purity! All knee before the Holy Hymen!

Thankfully, Fanning The Flame improves tremendously in the late third of the story as the story focuses on the murder rather than Jillian's Hymenic Revelation. It's a pedestrian mystery, but at least it's not the braindead romance that's being shoved down my throat, and that's something. The consequences leading to Jillian and Adam's "separation" towards the end are more contrived than contrivances, but it's handled in a surprisingly mature (compared to the rest of the book) way. And the romance between their uncle and aunt, thus completing the incestuous breeding circle, is like a fresh shot of mercury after the clap that is the Jillian/Adam coupling.

The last two only prove that maybe, Kat Martin isn't completely devoured by the shark she tried to jump after her last few books after all. They also make me feel rather nostalgic for the superior books she'd written in the mid-1990s. Then comes the epilogue, which isn't just saccharine, it is so sickly, nauseatingly gross that the whole goo starts to look uncannily like that giant Blob creature in that old horror movie. I actually cringe at the epilogue. Thanks, Ms Martin, for killing the last of any goodwill I feel towards your story.

Fanning The Flame? Let me get my bellows. Burn, burn, burn!

Rating: 51

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