Elizabeth Bevarly is at it again, writing screwball comedies with an affectionate tip of the hat to vintage films. This time How to Marry a Millionaire is the inspiration for this lighthearted secret identity farce. It's fun stuff, with some unique observations about the eternal battle between the sexes thrown in for good measure. However, a few plot weaknesses and a loose writing style kept it from measuring up to the definitive screwball Bevarly, My Man Pendleton.
Dorsey MacGuiness has so many identities she can't keep up with them all. By day, she's a drab sociology teacher at a small women's college. By night, she's "Mack" the bartender at Drake's, an exclusive men's club that is serving as the observation site for her dissertation on male behavior. But unbeknownst to almost everyone, she is also Lauren Grable-Monroe, the author of the new scandalous bestseller, How To Trap a Tycoon. Written with the expert guidance of her mother Carlotta -- a woman who has raised the art of being a kept woman to new heights -- the book is generating quite a bit of buzz. That's fine with Dorsey, as long as her anonymity is preserved.
But then Dorsey starts to fall for Adam Darian, editor of Men's Life (think Esquire) and regular patron of Drake's. Even though Adam is rich and hopelessly sexist, Dorsey enjoys her regular verbal sparring matches with him. Things never go any further than that because -- whoops, forgot one more complicating detail -- Dorsey wears a wedding ring when she is at Drake's so nobody will hit on her.
One evening, Dorsey overhears a conversation between Adam and his assistant Lucas Conaway, who decide that the mysterious Lauren Grable-Monroe is a threat to men everywhere, and must be unmasked. So while Dorsey slowly lets herself become involved with Adam, she knows she has to keep her other identity a secret at all costs. Even if her editor is pressuring her to make public appearances. Even if her mother thinks she can pull off the deception. Even if dressing up like a combination of Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable and Marilyn
Monroe is more fun than Dorsey ever thought it would be.
How to Trap a Tycoon certainly has its charms. As a sociology expert, Dorsey expounds a variety of outlandish and not-so-outlandish theories about male/female relationships and the power dynamic. I'll certainly never look at the Cinderella Complex or Barbie dolls the same way again. Dorsey's spirited debates with Adam are delightful verbal foreplay, and both are genuinely nice characters who deserve a happily-ever-after.
But I had some quibbles with the book as well. First of all, I'm not fond of plots that revolve around one of the main characters keeping secrets from the other. It's just too close to the dreaded Big Misunderstanding. Also, there is a secondary romance, between Lucas and Edie Mulholland, another Drake's bartender who is not the sickeningly sweet "Mulholland of Sunnybrook Farm" that Lucas accuses her of being. It doesn't
quite work, probably because the reader doesn't have the slightest idea what makes Edie tick until the last few pages of the novel. Finally, it's hard to believe that Dorsey's -- or rather Lauren's -- book that advocates nothing more creative than diaphanous gowns and seductive peignoirs as the means to catch a rich guy could be a runaway bestseller. I was hoping to read more interesting excerpts from the allegedly controversial book.
Bevarly's casual, breezy writing style is so loose in this novel that it sometimes sounds like stream of consciousness:
Lucas Conaway was in a worse than usual mood by the time he arrived at Drake's -- and that was saying something, because even his good moods were generally pretty lousy. His most recent irritation had been stirred up at the bookstore, generated by Lauren Grable-Monroe's incessant -- and pretty damned effective -- sexual innuendo. It had grown -- his irritation, that is...although that wasn't the only thing that had grown, now that he thought about it -- when he'd realized there was no outlet in sight for his current state of...irritation.
Now, do you find that paragraph entertaining or annoying? It walks a fine line for me, frankly.
Parts of How to Trap a Tycoon are much better than the average romance novel, but other parts are frustrating. It's a strong 3-heart rating -- I can't quite recommend it highly, but I think many readers looking for a sunny read will enjoy it.