When She Was Bad
by Cindy Kirk
(Avon $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-084790-6
“…fans of Jennifer Crusie will find a new favorite author,” reads the editor’s note on the back. I’m a fan of JC; When She Was Bad is in the style of JC only insofar as both authors write in English. Suggesting any further parallels is a stretch.

The “she” who is bad is Jenny Carman, 30 year-old CPA in Chicago. Jenny is plain vanilla, the type of hard-working woman who actually thinks that extra time in the office, seniority and talent will get her the big promotion. When that big promotion goes to the fun-loving 9-to-4 guy who golfs with the boss, she is shaken enough to give some consideration to making some changes in her life. Jenny was already questioning her basic life orientation, which was much like that of her recently deceased grandmother.

Gram was the type of woman who saved beautiful gifts in original wrapping because they were “too good for everyday.” While packing up Grandma’s things, Jenny is very taken by an old photo of her Grandmother’s friend Jasmine Coret, a woman who died quite young but had reportedly packed more living into her short 30 years than most people did into a lifetime. The first step in Jenny’s life makeover is a night barhopping with her best friend. The second step is losing her suit jacket and button-down shirt so she’s barhopping in her skirt and lace camisole. The third step is picking up a guy in the bar and going home with him for a night of fabulous sex. Since she expects this to be a one-night stand, she gives him a more “interesting” name and occupation: Jasmine Coret, hairstylist.

Although jet-lagged from a recent business trip, Robert Marshall is in that bar with a friend because he’s a little weary of his alone-ness. Looking forward to a boy’s night out with darts and beer, Robert is disappointed when his friend hooks up and leaves him alone in the bar. While he’s finishing up his drink, Robert is joined by a fine-looking, fun-loving woman. During their getting-to-know-you chat, he is taken by her high spirits and entrepreneurial drive (the hair salon is reportedly thriving). They adjourn to another nightclub, and then they adjourn to his bedroom. A fine night (and next morning) of fun is enjoyed by all. Jasmine didn’t expect to see Robert after their one-night stand, but in her new go-for-the-gusto lifestyle she becomes a bit of a party animal, and so bumps into him soon thereafter; they begin a relationship. She keeps telling herself that she needs to tell him the truth, but keeps putting it off until it’s clearly going to be a big problem when she does.

That is a pretty weak bio of Robert, but it’s about all you get from the book. What he thinks, what he feels, who he is – all details the author doesn’t share. Even his “business” is so vague as to make one wonder if he’s laundering money for the mob. Of course, if he were, we wouldn’t know it. He is estranged from his brother and father, but the plot development that tidbit introduces doesn’t appear until the book is two-thirds over. The male perspective is one of my favorite parts of a good romance, and the lack of one here is a major drawback, particularly as it wasn’t necessary; this isn’t a first-person narrative.

Jenny/Jasmine, on the other hand, is displayed in all her interior and exterior glory. She is as transparent as safety glass, and about as deep. Sure, who hasn’t wanted to spice up her life? But the plunge off the deep end into the bar pick-up scene – didn’t she read “Looking for Mr. Goodbar?” – was as unrealistic as it was sleazy. And while it’s good to have a role model, when Jenny is faced with a challenging and unfamiliar choice, she actually asks herself, “What would Jasmine do?” WWJD, indeed.

Mostly, though, the book is a vast disappointment because nothing happens. Jenny lies, she goes beyond lying to set up elaborate charades to protect her cover (including agreeing to cut Robert’s hair), she worries about getting caught, she frets about needing to tell Robert the truth… That’s about it. What “plot” there is involves some far-fetched coincidences – isn’t Chicago a pretty large town? Does everyone use the same accounting firm, visit the same outdoor cafes, and go to the same parties? There is a hint of some parallels between Jenny’s and Robert’s relationships with disapproving fathers and strained relationships with younger siblings, but they are played out as shallowly and woodenly as the main story line. Apparently, vast gulfs can be bridged with a good shopping trip, a bunch of chocolate, and a couple of heart-to-heart conversations. One last great disappointment of note: on the cover, a faceless blond sports a sweet arm band tattoo – barbed wire and cherries. Jenny/Jasmine never gets such a tattoo, nor even contemplates one.

This is a debut effort. Perhaps the author will develop her talent further, so that a comparison to one of the stars of romancelandia will be justified.

--Laura Scott

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