MIRA, $5.99, ISBN 1-55166-951-X
Contemporary Romance, 2002 (Reissue)
What the Lady Wants is one of those fun, cool stories that seems to poke fun at Sam Spade stories while providing enough one-liners, a sexy hero, and a ditsy while likable heroine to make my day. Fun, fun, fun is the agenda of the day, and this silly yet well-crafted romance effortlessly convinces me that yes, this is what I want, and dang it, give me more, gimme gimme gimme. If I’m not careful, I’ll get addicted and start paying ridiculous prices on eBay or Amazon for this author’s out-of-print books. It’s all Ms Crusie’s fault.
Mitch Peaboy, upon a bet, is playing at being a PI. He is actually very good at it, but he’s not too keen on the sheer number of cuckold cases he is hired for. He doesn’t believe in marriage, and this PI stint is only reinforcing his prejudice against holy matrimony. (Wait until he reads romance novels – then he’ll really sweat.) But he perks up considerably when a sexy blonde moll right out of Sam Spade stuff walks into his office one day and hires him to search for her late uncle’s missing diary.
Mae Belle “Not Mabel, please!” Sullivan is trapped in a family of creepy and eccentric Mafia figures. Her late Uncle Armand is a hateful guy who didn’t treat her or his mistresses well, and it is Armand’s cast-off and staff June and June’s boyfriend (and butler) Harold that took care of her. Mae has an uncle, Gio Donatello, and Gio and his son Carlo are all about the whacked Mafiosi antics. Uncle Claud is cold, financially calculative, and between he and Gio, they have Godfather and Super Mario Bros gone Mafia all covered nicely. Add into the mix Mae’s ex-husband, Armand’s mistress Stormy, Armand’s new wife Barbara, and too many other people more than happy to kill Armand and we get a nice game of Cluedo in the making. It’s a decent mystery, although I’m disappointed with the identity of the killer. Can we, for once, have a killer who actually have a decent, hardhearted mercenary motive to kill?
Mitch is hot. He doesn’t like the idea of marriages, but he has a thing for hot librarians. Even more fun, he doesn’t really fight the idea of attraction to Mae much. Mae is fun as a ditsy bubble-headed twit who actually displays surprising brainpower and wit, but she becomes more helpless and martyred as the story progresses. Points are deducted for that.
But oh, the funnies! There are so many priceless MasterCard moments to choose from. Is it the fabulous wisecrack scene about “laying the pipeline” and “opening the West” where Mae punctures all of Mitch’s nonsense about men being by nature promiscuous? How about when Mitch confesses his love for Mae? Or the love scene – I’ll have to use hot irons to uncurl my toes after that one? Mitch’s listing his list of librarian girlfriends is a laugh-out-loud moment too. And then there’s this scene at the funeral where an exasperated lawyer tries to placate his wife and Mitch as his dating history with Mae is made public. You know what, I’ll say the whole book is a priceless MasterCard moment. The romance isn’t particularly dramatic, but Mitch is an “I’ll do him even before the Pope!” kind of sexy and Mae for the whole is one snappy, cute ditsy belle. The secondary cast shines in delivering more funnies, and in the end I’m sold on Ms Crusie’s potent brand of humor. There’s a lovely optimism in What the Lady Wants about romance and love that is missing in her mainstream novels, and I wish I have discovered this author when she was writing for Harlequin.