Saturday, February 10, 2007
British Bad Boys
by Nancy Warren
Rating: worth a look.
The first time I picked up the book I looked at the cover I laughed--the second time, I bought it (sometimes quirky covers make all the difference). It shows a man who seems very proud of his cufflinks standing in front of a stately home saying: “Anything you like, luv.” A very confusing mélange of British stereotypes to be sure. Sort of Prince Charles meets Footballer’s Wives by way of the East End. Inside are three linked stories that are pretty much cozy small town love stories with high flying professional people.
The opening scene gives us the Earl of Ponsford being served tea by his Butler (called “Wiggins”, I kid you not) and putting on his navy blazer. Alas, I had a lot of trouble with the setting. An estate with over 180 staff and a small village that would not exist without this estate. The village is all quaint with stone cottages, thatched roofs and no street lights--but includes a range of stores including an internet café and a pub with multiple vegetarian food options. Oh well, in the interests of romance I shall suspend my disbelief.
Having done so I found it rather nice to read about terribly talented, likeable people falling in love with each other. First George the architect-Earl and TV producer Maxine, then Publican Arthur and author Meg, and finally head chef Rachel and playboy businessman Jack. There is love at first sight, sex (not described in great detail) at first opportunity and marriage in the not to distant the future. Of the three stories the last, ‘Union Jack’, is most engaging as both characters have their foibles and the secondary characters support their story rather than being heroes and heroines obviously planted for use later on.
The first two stories ‘George and the Dragon’ and ‘Night Round Arthur’s Table’ are nice enough but far too similar. Not only do both explore the sensual scenario of a man showing a woman how to play darts—but the sex scenes echo each other with men with busy lips and lines like “You’re so wet,” he whispered [George] and “You’re so wet. So hot,” he murmured [Arthur] creating a distracting sense of deja vue. Both of these stories only provide a token obstacle to overcome in that high-flying American women are not sure they want to move to England or, or as Maxine calls it “the go or stay dilemma.”
Overall the treatment of the British theme straddles authentic and cheesy aspects. An earl who looks like Hugh Grant and every heroine in the book being a visiting American. Everything from over-cooked beef to bad weathers get a mention in what feels a little like a rough guide to national clichés. The author obviously knows England pretty well but the way this is expressed often feels a little forced and it is like the authentic details sit awkwardly next to cheerful stereotypes. I mean, is there a particular point to the following exchange other than to point out that Brits have some funny sounding food?
“I thought it was fish and chips.”
“No, darling. You’re thinking of sausages and mash.”
Maxine said, “I’m still waiting to try toad in the hole.”
“And wait till you’ve tried Mrs B.’s bubble and squeak,” George said.
Overall the author's voice seems to be an American one, which meshes better with the heroine’s points of view than that of the heroes. But given that this collection is part of the Brava ‘Bad Boys’ series it should not be surprising that foreigners are being offered up largely as a slightly exotic curiosity. Oh, and as is also usual with this series, none of the men is even slightly bad.
There were occasional perplexing moments such as when some guy called Ted is a “lighting man” on page 68 and a “sound tech” by page 70. And the scene where Meg suddenly tells Arthur that she can see a bloody corpse in his pub, and only after six paragraphs about the importance of a good manicure is this revealed to be her writer’s imagination at work not a psychic gift or mental breakdown.
The collection's redeeming qualities are the eminently likeable characters and heart warming pair-ups. Its main problems are brushes with both stereotype and cliché. Competently written but a little too sweet for my taste. Your mileage may vary.