Duets 58 by Candy Halliday & Diane Drake
(HD 58, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-44124-X
****
When I read an anthology or any book with two or more stories, I usually rate the book on the average of the stories. Well, I'm glad that rule isn't set in stone because my recommended rating for Duets 58 is based on Dianne Drake's The Doctor Dilemma, a delightfully funny, tender story of a nurse and doctor whose romantic quandary may give them a headache.

The first story in Duets 58 is one I'd recommend reading quickly until it catches your interest. If, like me, you're unimpressed, then you haven't invested too much time. Lady and the Scamp is a pedigreed dog owner's nightmare. While her parents are traveling in Europe, attorney Cassie Collins is dog sitting her mother's bichon frise, a pooch that's just won best of show at the Westminster Dog Show. One of Cassie's duties is overseeing Duchess' mating with a champion male bichon frise. Imagine her horror when she looks in the backyard and sees oh yuck a mongrel escapee from next door, doing serious romancing with the regal pooch.

Cassie's next act is something that I truly hope only happens in Romance Land. She calls the local security force for the exclusive community with this message. "This is Cassie Collins over on Crescent Circle. There's a rapist in my backyard! Hurry, I need your help."

Is this Three Stooges humor? Sophisticated wit? Or, I have to question somewhat cynically, humor at all?

Cassie separates the lovers and returns Earl, the mongrel Lothario, to his owner, next door neighbor Nick Hardin. Her threats of a law suit and her imperious attitude are enough to set off his fuse. And Nick, a syndicated radio talk show host, makes the most of the situation. His listening audience begins to get daily updates on the doggie dilemma.

The story takes a silly turn when Duchess, a new mommie-to-be, begins to pine away for Earl's company.

The cast of secondary characters is lifted from Lifestyles of the Rich and Weird. Cassie's mother uses fake heart attacks to keep Cassie on a short leash. Cassie's boyfriend is a pompous political candidate with all the charisma of a stuffed moose head. And her grandfather delivers the coup de grace when he tells her that she's only been a "necessary convenience" at the family hoity-toity law firm.

Humor is a subjective commodity, and while this humor didn't appeal to me AT ALL, what bothered me about Lady and the Scamp boils down to the way the lead characters treat each other. Sarcasm and hatefulness seem to be the order of the day. When a romance veers a bit too close to real life, then it loses its escapist appeal. Harsh and discordant relationships are more of a turn off to me than juvenile, warped humor. Nick also loses points on the hero scale when he tests Cassie's loyalty, a test that she doesn't even know she's taking.

Knowing that most Duets share a common bond, I approached The Doctor Dilemma with trepidation. Talk about the light of the tunnel or that proverbial breath of fresh air. Well, this is it. This story is so first-rate that it would be wonderful even if it weren't compared to the first story in Duets 58. Its energy allows it to stand on its own.

Nurse Lacy Archer has quit her big city, high pressure job and is moving to the bucolic life in Sunstone, Indiana, where, according to the ad she answered, she can experience "adequate salary, a great place to live, rural medicine and no big city hassles." Lacy grew up seeing her grandfather flourish as a country doctor and is eager to begin her new life.

Orthopedic surgeon Jack Sutton is going to fill in temporarily until a new physician can be found for Sunstone. He's recuperating from knee surgery and is in Sunstone as a favor to a friend. Unlike Lacy, who sees a new, refreshing life in Sunstone, he sees nothing good about America's heartland. He's also quickly put in his place when Lacy refuses to get his coffee, meals and whatever else his little heart desires. Laundry, anyone?

Oh, these two are well and truly attracted to each other. But the barrier of rural medicine versus big city technology won't go away. You've got to appreciate Jack's plight when, instead of cash, he's given turnips, kittens, a calf and other small town tributes. Lacy takes it in stride, but Jack is somewhat bewildered.

In a scene that I found comical, as opposed to a pedigreed pooch pregnancy, Lacy and Jack are making an emergency night house call. Jack is driving while Lacy reads his directions aloud. We expect a nurse to be able to decipher a doctor's handwriting, right? Oh, wrong.

Returning to the directions, she continued, "Follow till darn "
"Corn."
"Cornfield. Dunbar house first on the left, end of darn . . . cornfield. Halt mine offroar. Is that German or something?"

Jack and Lacy's developing relationship is nothing short of sensational. They have real differences, ones that seem to be beyond compromise. But their banter, their thrust and parry as they explore the other's uniqueness and their intimacy . . . all of these are done with such strength, such wonderful prose and sparking dialog, that I found myself wanting for this story to go on . . . for a long, long time.

It would be great if you enjoyed Lady and the Scamp. That way, you'll have two winners. And if you don't care for it, then The Doctor Dilemma is just the right prescription for wonderful summer reading.

--Linda Mowery


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