I decided to read a romance. Romances are astonishingly popular and sell like candy and, as an underemployed writer, I wondered if writing romance novels might be a more certain way of earning a living than writing corporate marketing brochures or not-for-profit newsletters. Some cursory research later I concluded that romance writers can rest easy—there won’t be any competition from this corner any time soon. Romances are thick with their own conventions and speak an acquired language that is as coded as a tech manual. They have so many specifically defined categories that just picking one to specialize in would be hard. Reading one is another story—much simpler.
Scarlet Nights by Jude Deveraux was a whole bagful of candy, the kind you start eating like potato chips and stop stuffing your face with when you reach the bottom of the bag. The cover is pink. The hero is ripped. The heroine is beautiful, vulnerable, somewhat virginal and a wicked cook. Oh, and Mike the hero can cook, too. He cooks for Sara, the heroine, and he cleans up. Also works out pre-dawn, is a master of every kind of martial art known to humankind and has a hidden compartment in the trunk of his leather-upholstered car loaded with sophisticated weapons. Which he can use—excellent marksman, high-level undercover cop. He is a vulnerable soul as well and wears very expensive clothes, never went to college, likes opera—although he thinks Andrea Bocelli is an opera singer, hmmmm–and makes a mean margarita. What’s not to love about this guy? Heroine does not love him for about 15 minutes. Then she tells herself why she could not possibly love him for about 250 pages.
It’s fun to read. All the women are either besties or hate each other since high school. Most of them are pregnant or want to be. Everyone is having sex like mad, except the hero and heroine, naturally, for a while. And murder is afoot in a small town in which everyone knows everybody else’s business but more or less likes them anyway. I liked the book. The women are spunky and stick up for themselves, despite all being hellbent on procreation. The men are somewhat flummoxed by the feisty women but bravely take charge at every opportunity and do sweet, secret things to keep the lovely ladies safe. There are enough brand names and luxury items to remind you of how life used to be when people actually had money, bought things and occasionally aspired to high thread-count sheets and meals in expensive restaurants.
Sara gets a huge rock, a massive fortune and a major stud. Mike gets a pretty girl, an historic farm and a perfect life. Some very buff men run around bare-legged and bare-chested in kilts which everyone finds incredibly sexy. Hook-ups happen in baths, showers, on tabletops, beds, hand-loomed carpets and the backs of leather-upholstered cars. It’s the magical dream of the fifties come to life in the wrecked 21st century. He’s got your back, everything you ever wanted, an insatiable (but tender) appetite for sex and a jones for you that will never die. She’s got a pure heart, a stubborn streak, non-stop homemaking talents, an art history degree and a fabulous figure.
The story begins at Once upon a time (because who lives like this any more? Who ever did?) and concludes with …and they lived happily ever after (because that’s exactly what you were rooting for, that gauzy life so exactly the opposite of your harried, micro-waved, five-pounds-perpetually-overweight existence). In between there are threats, villains, mysteries, evil plots, long-buried secrets, shocking discoveries and homemade cookies with bits of lavender in them. Cookies with lavender. Beats ordinary chocolate chip with walnut hands-down. There is nothing at all believable in this book. I enjoyed it immensely.
Scarlet Nights: An Edilean Novel Jude Deveraux | Atria Books 2010