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Romancing Riley

Stranded at Cupidís Hideaway

The Viscountís Bawdy Bargain

Dirty Little Lies by Connie Lane
(Bantam Dell, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-440-23747-5
For me, one of the treats of any vacation is the luxury of guilt-free reading time in a relaxed setting. I took several books with me on my recent getaway. Dirty Little Lies seemed promising and it was the first book I grabbed. I made it through the first 50 pages before giving up. Thankfully I had backups on hand or I would have been forced to scour the little lakeside community for something ó anything else. Every vacation ends, though, and then itís back to reality, work, and in my case, Dirty Little Lies.

Small town beauty queen Lacie Jo Baxter finds herself in a bad situation when sheís abducted from a grand opening at a drug store. As Miss Kansas Summer Squash, Lacie takes her role seriously. So seriously, that when dazzling her mysterious abductor with her smile and sunny chatter fails, she bonks him with her baton and escapes. She limps home to a gathering of her loving friends and concerned community members. Sheís not hurt, but she did break a heel!

Her motherís happy to see her and immediately helps her repair hair and makeup, but rebellious little sister Dinah seems indifferent. HmmmmmÖ. Everyone is left wondering who would do such a thing to Lacie. Shaking the experience off like a broken nail, Lacie poses for pictures and signs autographs for her adoring fans. No highly motivated, future Miss National Summer Squash would do less. In fact, one begins to see that sustaining a broken nail would have troubled Lacie more than being kidnapped did.

Someone who does concern himself with the matter is FBI guy Ben Camaglia, a big-city agent doing time in Kansas until the heat is off him back home in D.C. He thinks that solving this case will be his ticket back to the big leagues. Benís a standard issue handsome young Italian cop with a great wardrobe (we are not allowed to forget this fact) and lots of motivation. He canít seem to get anywhere with people he interrogates. Lacie has focused on her upcoming competition and no one else seems to know a thing. Dinah seems a little shady, though; why doesnít she care more about her sister? Her boyfriend, Wiley, does whatever Dinah asks; maybe heís helping Dinah get rid of Lacie?

Who knows? And who, besides Ben, cares? Lacie goes about her business, even walking around the streets alone at night and sleeping in her unlocked house. So, naturally youíd think that Lacie is suppressing some deep emotional scar or dark, troubled psyche, making her behave so carelessly after being jumped and blindfolded by an unknown assailant, shoved in a car trunk, and driven to a deserted location. Nope. She just canít seem to think about too much stuff at once, and she needs to do real good as a beauty queen right now, okay? Why on earth Ben wastes time on these people is the biggest mystery here, even if he wants to get out of Kansas. Lacie hasnít got much going on beyond her looks, and I disliked her snotty ďtoo good for thatĒ attitude, especially since sheís such a knucklehead. Regretfully she is saddled with dialogue like ďIf I donít come out and say what I came here to say, then I wonít say it at all.Ē What more is there to say?

How gratifying if Lacie grew beyond her beauty queen mentality to see the complexities of what that culture does to young women. Think of Sandra Bullock inMiss Congeniality. Her tough girl character gets sucked into the pageant culture on some level. She finds it isnít so bad being recognized for beauty and charm as long as you donít take it too seriously. But Lacie never sees that or breaks through this superficial culture, even when she witnesses the sickness it causes in people.

There is no believable romance between Lacie and Ben. Theyíre attracted to each other on a purely physical level. But we kinda have to take their word for that. Itís more like the high school football star that feels he has to date the most beautiful girl in school. Yawn. I did like the spice between Wiley and Dinah, and they are why I gave the book a PG rating, mostly because they were creative and into homemade tattoos, etc. They at least had a romance.

As for the mystery, it all gets worked out conveniently and disturbingly painlessly, considering what happens. Itís as if the author ran out of clothes to talk about and quickly tied things up after dragging the story out. I was more interested in what was going to happen to Wiley and Dinah than anything else.

I was surprised to know that the author has written several other books, even some under another name. I had thought that perhaps Dirty Little Lies was a first effort, and I could have been more understanding if that were so. If you are looking to read about heartfelt romance on your vacation, or even a story with characters of any depth, look elsewhere ó bring more books.

--Deann Carpenter

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