Then Comes Marriage
by Christie Ridgway, contemporary (2003)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81896-5

If you have seen Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls, you may recall a scene where Jim Carrey's character bursts out of the butt of a (mechanical) elephant. For a moment there, I thought the cover art shows the hero dragging the heroine - legs first - out of the butt of a sheep. "Oh dear, shouldn't we call for a Caesarian instead?" I mutter until I realize it's actually the hero trying to undo the heroine's garter and the sheep's butt is actually the frilly skirt of the heroine's wedding dress.

But it's an appropriate description of this book: the author sets up a really whacked plot and tries to pull logic out of the plot's butt.

The story starts out in a dangling way that I suggest you read the author's even more implausible "I get my plots from a telepathic phone line to Abu the Space Swami from Planet Indrabadadabad" First Comes Love first. There, heiress Honor Witherspoon was kidnapped by villains, and during her heinous captivity where she is not subjected to any degrading behavior at all, she learns about this lovely town of Hot Water where busybody idiots, freaks, rejects from society, and where romance authors burned out of sensible plots come to retire, and realizes that she has found a home at last where she will always belong, a Daddy's Girl freak among freaks.

So her father buys her a chunk of Hot Water - thus earning her the enmity of most of the townspeople. Oops. Then Daddy Dearest has to leave the country and forces Hope to marry Bram Bennett, a supposed genius, because according to Daddy Dearest, a husband will protect his wife to all ends. As opposed to a father who forces his dim-witted daughter to wed a stranger. And since dutiful daughters and good women submit to Daddy no matter what, Hope decides to marry Bram and maybe annul the whole thing in a few months time. Her eyes bug out when she realizes that Bram wants them to do the yazoo.

Of course, it's a bluff on his side. Bram wants to drive her away. After all, he has been Guilt Ridden and Tormented by the death of his wife and whatever else, and I guess since he is too chicken-poopoo to tell her Daddy to get lost, he will now passive-aggressively force Honor to break it off instead.

But she decides to teach him a lesson, and so we go. Really crazy wacky moments are provided by the townspeople, and I shudder if this is the direction where Ms Ridgway and all other contemporary authors are heading to making the most out of the current "Wackjob small town romance - damn the romance, let's pile on the Scooby Doo hijinks" fad. Ms Ridgway's early books for Avon has a nice balance of romance and humor, so why this painful attempt at being an Elizabeth Bevarly clone?

The only saving grace - and a much-needed sanctuary from the whacked characters in this book - is the secondary romance between overweight Mia and the slick Josh McCool. It becomes such that I wish this couple is the main romance and the two cardboard main characters and the rest of the walking Scooby Doo rejects in Hot Water will be wiped out in a comet shower and leave the much more developed Mia and Josh to smooch their way to a happy ending.

I'm sure readers who can't get enough of the hysterical meddlesome old ladies and stupid old men small town romance thing will love this one. But if you're like me who sometimes wish that contemporary romances don't try too hard to resemble a bad Mr Bean episode, you may want to chuckle at the cover of the book and then move on. Paula Detmer Riggs has a long-overdue full length novel to follow up her excellent Taming The Night, out later this year. Maybe we should all wait for that one. Unless, of course, Ms Riggs too cranks out a Scooby Doo romance, and then you will see one angry granny coming down to New York with a stun gun to zap all you editors out there. You've all been warned.

Rating: 52

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