MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 0-7783-2021-9
Contemporary Romance, 2004
Hot & Bothered sees glimmers of the return of the old Susan Andersen before she went to Avon and tried to mutate into Susan Elizabeth Phillips but unfortunately, the only credible relationship in this story is that between hero John Miglionni and his hitherto-secret-kid Esme. Everything else in this book is an amalgamation of the most laughable clichés with minimal attempt made to make these elements even a little logical.
Years ago, with We Are Too Stupid to Use Birth Control playing in the background, our bad boy stereotype hero Rocket had a fling with the innocent rich idiot stereotype Victoria Hamilton. Years later, they meet again by chance when, on her lawyer’s advice, she hires John, now a PI, to help her track down her half-brother Jared. Her father is murdered and Jared is suspected of the deed. Jared is missing and now Tori wants John to track the kid down. Oh, and here comes Esme, the secret kiddie, although now she is no longer a secret, of course. Oh, poor Tori, it looks like she’s not going to be winning the Secret Baby Mother of the Year award after all.
John has a very, very lousy childhood. Tori has a very, very crazy father. Because it is a rule, it seems, that romance heroines must act like complete idiots to remain “virtuous”, I really love that part where her father wanted her to abort the child she was carrying and Tori fled all the way to England because the “A” word is too heinous for her to bear without overreacting like a crackpot primadonna. Heroines who have kids and then try to keep them a secret from their non-criminal fathers while raising them alone without much means of support rarely come off as halfway sensible and Tori, in this book, comes off as positively cork-brained in pretty much everything she says and does. She is a cardboard character drawn to fit the basic requirements of the unthinking formula where pride is passed off as “independence” and stupidity is passed off as “virtue”.
Hot & Bothered isn’t a funny book. Ms Andersen wants to depict life on the streets, although Jared’s adventures come off like a romanticized I Stopped by the Wayward House of Happy Endings at the Ghetto adventure instead of the grim Adventures of an Underage Street Escort as it may as well be in any other scenario. Ms Andersen also wants to create tortured characters, although she seems to be proficient in this instance only in creating cartoon neurotic stick characters acting stupid.
The only instance where she has success is in depicting John’s insecurities in his sudden role as a father to Esme. His fear of becoming a replicate of his abusive father comes off as real and therefore his learning to trust himself as well as other people is a poignant tale to follow. How unfortunate that the woman he is sleeping with is a total contrivance, the plot is an awkward patchwork of clichés, and his relationship with Esme has to fight for space with the tedious and banal “Beautiful but Hurt Street Children – Love Them, O People!” subplot along with an utterly insipid “Secret Baby + Stupid Mummy” romance.