|Jennifer Crusie is a sure cure for the midwinter blahs. Three pages into Bet Me, I was laughing out loud and pretty much didn’t stop grinning until the end of the book. If Crusie’s brand of wiseass humor is to your liking, you’ll have a lot to like here.
Minerva “Min” Dobbs is standing in a crowded gambling-themed bar named the Long Shot listening in disbelief as her date of two months, David, methodically dumps her because she won’t sleep with him:
“This relationship is not working for me,” David said.
I could shove this swizzle stick through his heart, Min thought. She wouldn’t do it, of course. The stick was plastic and not nearly pointed enough on the end. Also, people didn’t do that in southern Ohio. A sawed-off shotgun, that was the ticket.
Min isn’t all that brokenhearted over David, but she really needed him as an escort to her sister’s wedding in three weeks, and this pretty much wrecks her plans. A smart (and smart-mouthed) actuary with an insurance company, Min is slightly plump, slightly plain, and more than slightly fed up with men in general and David in particular. It doesn’t help that her mother is calorie-obsessed and forever nagging Min about her weight, or that she’s going to have to parade down the aisle in a maid of honor dress that makes her look like a “fat, demented shepherdess”.
When Min overhears David making a bet with Calvin Morrissey, the best-looking guy in the bar, that Cal can’t get Min into bed in a month, she decides to have a little revenge on her own. Min doesn’t overhear all the conversation, so she doesn’t realize Cal turns David down. Cal, a renowned love-em-and-leave-em charmer, has recently broken off a relationship with a radio psychologist named Cynthie, who desperately wants to marry him. Cal’s practiced charm runs smack into Min’s smart mouth, and their one-night dinner date morphs into an unintended and unwilling friendship, then into something much more. But standing in their way are well-intentioned friends, not-so-well-intentioned exes, a wedding from hell, chicken marsala, and a host of unendurable relatives.
Oh, and there’s a cat named Elvis.
The secondary characters are almost as much fun as Min and Cal. Bonnie and Liza, Min’s best friends, are balanced by Roger and Tony, Cal’s business partners. Add Emilio, Cal’s college-roommate-turned-restaurateur, and Harry, his eight-year-old nephew, plus the aforementioned family members, and the cast is full. All of them play a part, and Liza and Tony darn near steal the story. When Cynthie and David band together to break Min and Cal apart, things begin to run amok.
As with all of Crusie’s novels, the pacing is breakneck. However, her characterizations are surprisingly deep for a novel that relies on snappy dialogue for most of its humor. Cal is a practiced charmer, but there’s a very real guy with some very real pain under the surface, and we get to know him well. Min, a zaftig straight-shooter in a world of size-four beauties, is insecure about her shape but never whiny. When we meet her, she’s resigned to her physique, sick of the whole dating thing, and free to say and do as she damn pleases – which includes knocking Cal off balance and forcing him to view her in a different light. When he does, he likes what he sees. Min, however, knows he’ll eventually leave, and she’s not about to risk her heart.
One of the delights of Bet Me, aside from the trademark one-liners, is the evolving of the romance. Min and Cal don’t hit the sheets until late in the story, but the sexual tension between them builds so well that I didn’t even miss it. Crusie does a great job of detailing the sizzling attraction between these unwilling lovers, and when the “unwilling” turns to “willing”, she throws in some roadblocks that turn up the heat even more.
Running throughout the book are two themes: betting and theories on love. A number of bets are placed, some of them Min’s, and the original bet between David and Cal comes full circle in a fun way. As for theories, Cynthie believes relationships evolve in four parts; Tony believes it’s all part of chaos theory; and Bonnie believes in fairy-tale romances. Min believes men are dweebs, her mother is nuts, and there’s no way a guy like Cal could ever be seriously interested in her. She’s the only one who is wrong, and what fun readers will have in finding that out with her.
Jennifer Crusie delivers up one of her best novels yet with Bet Me. If you like romance at rollercoaster speed, punctuated with plenty of one-liners, this will definitely capture your interest, and what will hold you is the delightful romance underneath. Kiss the midwinter blahs goodbye – Crusie’s back!