Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7774-2
Contemporary Romance, 2005
As a firm believer in putting dunce caps on morons’ heads and giving good grades only to people who have worked for and therefore deserve their grades, I have serious trouble in buying what Barbara Plum is trying to sell me in Queen of the Universe: an inept heroine who should get the world and more just because the author says so.
I pick up this book because the plot sounds interesting: the heroine Kelsy Chandler is already involved with cop Finn Bishop before the story begins and they now have to make their relationship work when Kelly, who wants to be a hotshot TV anchorwoman, may just get her wish come true, thanks to a handsome man who may just steal her away from Finn if Finn is not careful. Can Finn with his measly paycheck ever compete with Kelly and the grand dreams of fame and wealth that she is pursuing?
Let’s start with the good thing first. Barbara Plum takes a somewhat different approach when it comes to the overused and overkilled undercover action man hero angle: she doesn’t romanticize Finn too much. Here, she lays open the stark realities of Finn’s undercover cop job – the long and numbing hours of routine stakeouts and observations, the low pay, and the stress, for example. On one hand, Ms Plum makes it clear that Finn is doing a good thing in helping the good guys and keeping the bad guys locked away, but Finn is also considering finishing law school to get away from his job. After all those overly romanticized secret agents that go around driving their Porsches and spending their entire time doing nothing but to wine and dine virginal librarians in podunk small towns, Finn Bishop is a refreshing kind of hero. A human one, in fact.
Now, the bad. The heroine Kelsy is a one-note character and she’s set to the maximum level of the “Too Perky – Must Wish Her a Violent and Slow Death” meter. Worse, the incessant and increasingly obnoxious over-flippancy she thinks is so cute is coupled to a serious lack of respect for her bosses (they suck so she doesn’t have to actually do her work) or work schedule. Come to think of it, the few times where Kelsy does her job are those times when she flops spectacularly like a hippo trying to walk a tightrope blindfolded. Yet for some reason Ms Plum expects me to root for this incompetent gasbag to get her dream job as an anchorwoman. I’m not that evil enough to wish someone like Kelsy on a TV network, not even on Fox. Ms Plum tries to blame Kelsy’s lack of opportunities on bad luck and bad timing, but Kelsy comes off as incompetent that it seems like a mercy act if someone locks her in the studio basement and lets her out only once a day for fresh air.
I’m also supposed to be sympathetic to Kelsy as she chooses between Finn and the other man. Ms Plum, however, makes it clear that the other man is… well, let’s just say that he’s a tried-and-true stereotype and leave it at that. So there is no suspense as to which guy is the right guy for Kelsy and therefore this story is just a long wait for that silly gasbag to get a clue.
Perhaps there is some method underneath the way Ms Plum works, though, because it is hard to call this book yet another example of how romance heroines should never follow big dreams and just be content with having a husband and kids because the Outside World is filled with big bad people that will hurt those fragile women, not when Kelsy clearly doesn’t deserve to get her big dreams fulfilled anyway. When Ms Plum gives Kelsy a token bone of a TV career at the end after Kelsy has arrived at her right-wing sponsored epiphany, the job comes off like something way grander than a gasbag like Kelsy deserves to have. I don’t know. Queen of the Universe stars a too-perky version of Ally McBeal moaning and whining and stumbling dizzily her way to the, er, “top”, I suppose, and it’s a book best left to folks who believe that perkiness is a virtue big enough to cover a wide spectrum of incompetency on the heroine’s part.