Thief of Words by John Jaffe
(Warner, $19.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-53080-8
****
Thief of Words is a charming and unabashedly corny story of middle-age love that will have special appeal to romantics who were former English majors. Husband and wife team Jody Jaffe and John Muncie have penned a semi-autobiographical novel about their own courtship that proves it’s never too late to find true love.

Literary agent Annie Hollerman finally gives in to her best friend Laura’s urging to go on a blind date with Jack DePaul, Laura’s boss at the Baltimore Star-News. A 45-year-old divorcée, Annie admits that she’s lonely but is reluctant to risk her emotions again. Also, she never dates journalists because they remind her of her meteoric rise and devastating fall at a small North Carolina newspaper almost 20 years ago. But surprisingly, Annie and Jack feel an instant connection, and Annie finds herself tentatively optimistic. Because of their busy schedules, their dates are limited, but in the meantime Jack decides to woo the skittish Annie with e-mails. But not just ordinary e-mails - Jack seizes upon Annie’s comment that “you can’t rewrite your past” and decides to do just that. Instead of the dismal time Annie had in Spain with her ex-husband, Jack creates a new tale of himself and Annie together in sultry Jerez, mesmerized by flamenco dancers. The disastrous train ride Annie took across Canada is replaced by a sensual adventure aboard a train from exotic Singapore to Bangkok. Annie is enchanted, and more than a little bit in love, but the past isn’t that easy to banish - and both Jack’s and Annie’s are about to catch up with them.

The idea of rewriting the past is an intriguing one, and you have to love a 50-year old gruff but cute newspaper editor like Jack who pulls off the feat of healing Annie through his stories. Yet as Annie finally realizes, the past, both good and bad, has made her the person she is today and she ultimately has to embrace all of it.

Jody Jaffe is the author of several mystery novels and John Muncie is an editor at the Baltimore Sun. Their first collaboration is an homage to the power of words. Almost ingenuous in its enthusiasm, the novel features two protagonists who can be brought to tears by the poetry of Pablo Neruda or the novels of Gabriel García Márquez. Sometimes the book’s prose is embarrassingly overblown, as in one of Jack’s narratives: “The aurora of a county fair flickered on the northern horizon and, muffled by the summer-swollen leaves, the calliope jangle of the midway sounded no louder than the ghostly twitter of bats.” But the authors’ obvious sincerity compels the reader forgive them for these lapses.

The one false note in the novel occurs towards the end, when a dreaded big misunderstanding facilitated by a stereotypical Evil Other Woman causes a rift between Annie and Jack that could have been easily avoided with a little trust and communication. Maybe the authors felt the plot required some extra external conflict that their real-life love affair lacked, but it’s a jarring note.

I don’t know if Jaffe and Muncie have another novel in them or if they’ll return to their separate careers. But I appreciate their willingness to share this brief but delightful romance. Readers who enjoy the mature heroines of Jeanne Ray and Barbara Samuel will likely finish Thief of Words as I did, with a dopey grin on my face.

--Susan Scribner


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