MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-696-0
Contemporary Romance, 2003
One day, Jeanette Baker will finally crack the ceiling and create a book that truly captures a woman’s struggles without resorting to neat closures and contrived characterizations. As for now, she has ditched her “Irish horses and Irish heroines are free, free, free!” horse porn for pale shadows of what could have been when it comes to stories of women struggling to see sense in turbulent Ireland. It can’t be easy – for every one reader that appreciates these stories, there will be ten very vocal ones who will shrilly insist that romance books should be all about escapism and fluffy rakes or they will not buy, or something like that. Unfortunately, if the results are half-baked products like The Delaney Woman, I wonder if Jeanette Baker will thrive better in mainstream fiction.
Kellie Delaney is a simple, happy heroine whose live revolves around her brother Connor (ew, not that way) and Denny, Connor’s son. Kellie is, yes, a teacher while Connor is a cop. Then Connor and Denny are killed in a car accident which may not be so “accidental” after all. Kellie snoops around and finds the name Tom Whelan among Connor’s computer files. She decides to seek out Tom for answers. It turns out that Connor is an undercover for the British Special Forces. It also turns out that Tom is married. Don’t worry – Ms Baker knows how to gift wrap her happy endings very, very neatly.
There’s really no messy and complicated problems in this book. The characters aren’t that complex either. Kellie is defined by her stereotypical roles as a teacher and a caregiver. Her lack of sexual sophistication has a religious element behind it, but when this is viewed side by side with Kellie’s other formulaic characterization, even this sexual persona of hers come off like some contrived attempt to keep die-hard conservative readers happy. Tom is almost a non-entity – he really doesn’t do anything in this book. And like him, the romance is a non-entity too. Blink and I will miss it. The secondary characters are all defined stereotypes, with formulaic conservative “good” roles defining these characters so that they are identifiable from get go as “loving wife”, “maternal mother”, and so on. In Ms Baker’s Ireland, apparently, creativity and originality are as conservative as the values.
The Delaney Woman is a readable book, but its predictable and formulaic approach to plotting and characterization prevent this book from being anything better than a pleasantly average read.