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Her Man Friday
by Elizabeth Bevarly
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80020-9
***
Elizabeth Bevarly's first screwball romantic comedy for Avon, My Man Pendleton, was so hilariously entertaining that any plot and character weaknesses were easy to overlook. Her Man Friday is a decent follow-up, but this time the weaknesses are harder to ignore.

Leo Friday has been hired by the board of Kimball Technologies to uncover the perpetrator behind the embezzlement of more than 50 million dollars from "the pride and joy of Philadelphia's business community." Leo, a brawny South Philly hunk, reluctantly adopts the persona of Leonard Frieberger, a meek bookkeeper. The ruse is necessary to infiltrate Ashling, the Kimball family estate. Leo is immediately bowled over by Lily Rigby, the "social secretary" to Schuyler Kimball, billionaire genius and president of the company. She seems to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic in the brains department, and Leo suspects that her position as "social secretary" is often "horizontal." Nevertheless, Leo is hopelessly attracted to her. He starts anticipating his daily visits to Ashling, despite the presence of the eccentric Kimball family members, namely Schuyler's insecure sister, his flaky mother and his troubled 14-year-old ward.

Lily is similarly attracted to Leo, although she suspects he is hiding something. There's no way that a real bookkeeper could have muscular forearms like that. But Lily isn't being honest with Leo either. She and Schuyler share a secret that could topple Kimball Technologies, although she's neither the boss' mistress nor his flunky. When Leo comes too close to the truth, Lily wonders if she is about to lose both her job and her heart.

Her Man Friday continues Elizabeth Bevarly's noble quest to resurrect the screwball comedy genre of classic films such as His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby. The dialogue is sparkling, the bon mots fly fast and furious, and nothing is taken too seriously. The attraction between Lily and Leo leads to some electrifying love scenes. Basically, the reader is in for a rollicking good time.

Except...there were a few nagging problems that kept me from fully enjoying the romance and the comedy. If Leo was such a brilliant investigator, why didn't he see through Lily's paper-thin ditzy act? Why was he so attracted to a woman he thought was beneath his intellect? Plus his insistence that she must be sleeping with Schuyler Kimball was misogynistic, chauvinistic, and just plain "ick." Compared to Ms. Bevarly's previous hero, Pendleton, Leo just didn't measure up.

The novel features a secondary romance involving Schuyler Kimball and his ward's teacher. However, the eccentric billionaire is presented as being so self-centered and shallow that it is impossible, even in a comedic setting, to understand what any woman would see in him. The teacher is presented as a grieving widow who deeply mourns her late husband, which makes her attraction to Schuyler even more inconceivable. It doesn't help that very few pages are devoted to this plot, so that any character growth on Schuyler's part is too rushed to be plausible.

As a romantic farce, Her Man Friday delivers the goods. If you are at all in a skeptical sort of mood and start to think too much, you may find your enjoyment diminished. All in all, I applaud Ms. Bevarly's intentions and hope she introduces us to more of "her men."

--Susan Scribner


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