Secret Agent Groom
by Andrea Edwards
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1264, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24264-6
*****
O.K., let's cut to the chase. Secret Agent Groom is a funny, funny book that had me chuckling right from the start and laughing out loud more than once. In this second book in the "Bridal Circle" series, Andrea Edwards (actually the husband-wife writing team of Anne and Ed Kolaczyk) has used a conventional plot as a framework for some genuinely funny episodes.

Alex Waterstone was the daredevil of Chesterton, Indiana, during his teens; now, at 34, he's come home to teach at the local University. Ah, but he isn't really a professor. That's just his cover. He's really a government agent, setting the stage for a sting operation in which he will play a gambling addict, in over his head and owing money to The Mob. Alex Waterstone was not one of the Bridal Circle as a child.

Heather Ann Mahoney was. Heather grew up to be a kindergarten teacher, happily living a careful life in the neat little house next door to the house Alex is renting. She remembers Alex Waterstone with a shudder. "Things happened around him," even though he never got hurt. Although Heather thinks Alex is the "handsomest male in all of Indiana," he scares her to death.

A lot of things scare Heather. Rabid raccoons and chipmunks scare her; she doesn't like to eat while she's talking, for fear she'll choke; and she copes with strange noises in the night by creeping further under the covers. She is, however, brave about rescuing stray animals. She can't bear to see an abandoned animal and has made capturing them and socializing them an avocation. She'll try to rescue a feral kitten in her backyard even if it is nighttime and she's barefoot and wearing her pajamas decorated with sleeping kittens.

What makes a book funny? For me, it's not verbal pyrotechnics -- puns and word play -- it's funny situations. Alex pulling a gun on Heather in her kitten pajamas is funny, especially when Heather is more concerned about the possibly fatal affect of a tiny scratch on Alex's hand than she is about Alex's gun.

One of the strengths of this story is the supporting cast. The secondary characters -- Victoria, Henry, Bonnie, and Junior -- have fully-developed, well-rounded personalities. What makes that particularly remarkable is that the first three are cats, and the fourth -- Junior -- is a dog with an attitude. Anyone who has ever lived with an animal will chuckle over -- and acknowledge -- the influence these four have on their people.

In real life, an hour's exposure to the timid Heather would probably drive me crazy, but here she is the perfect foil for Alex's tough guy. The growing attraction between these two lonely people is believable even though Alex puts off telling Heather about his double life for so long that it feels contrived. Fortunately, that one stumble does not detract greatly from a charming story. This is definitely a book for my keeper shelf, one I know will make me laugh even on a second or third reading.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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