FAST WOMEN by Jennifer Crusie (see her website)
St. Martin's Press, May 2001
After twenty-two years of marriage, Nell Dysart is suddenly without a job, without a husband, and without a clue what to do next. She gets up the energy to apply for a job as secretary for a detective agency and discovers too-handsome Gabe McKenna. He hires her, but the two find themselves fighting about everything from office furniture to business cards to the office logo. With the fighting comes an incredible sexual attraction--but can a relationship really be based on sex and fighting?
Although the detective agency does a lot of work tracking down who is having an affair with whom, a staple in the business is Ogilvie and Dysart--a law firm that seems mired in bad luck. When the firm calls Gabe in to investigate a blackmailing, then asks him to back off, he realizes something is completely rotten--something that puts him, Nell, and Nell's friends in danger. Working sometimes together and sometimes at cross purposes, Nell and Gabe try to get to the bottom of an ancient apparent suicide, the reason Ogilvie and Dysart gave Gabe's father a Porche for one dollar, and the mysterious disapearance of one of the Dysart men.
Jennifer Crusie (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by this author) does an excellent job developing a rich set of characters. In addition to Gabe and Nell, Suzanne (Nell's sister-in-law) and Riley (Gabe's cousin and business partner) strike romantic sparks of their own, while presenting a different angle on love. Nell's son and Gabe's daughter also develop a relationship that reflects some aspects of their parents' growing love.
Crusie offers a smooth blend of romance with just enough suspense to keep things interesting. She takes full advantage of the single-title format (she has published with Silhouette). Rather than write a standard romance with occasional use of the 'f' word (although she does occasionally use that word, Crusie pushes the genre envelope. Before Nell and Gabe resolve their differences, Nell beds Riley and makes out with Suzanne (no zing).
Overall, I found plenty of zing in FAST WOMEN. The conflict between Gabe and Nell was serious enough to sustain the novel, Crusie offered multiple well developed characters, and her dialogue was generally excellent. Unlike some romantic comedies, the humor in FAST WOMEN generally flowed naturally from the plot and characters rather than being forced. The opening sequence, however, presented a Nell who went about accidentally breaking just about everything in Gabe's office. While this was quite funny, it didn't seem especially well connected to the rest of the novel nor to Nell's character as super-competent office manager. This, however, is a minor quibble. I highly recommend this novel.
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