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Deputy Daddy by Charlotte Maclay
(Harl. American #788, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16788-1
Despite industry statistics to the contrary, I find it hard to believe that any romance reader greets the old amnesia plotline with anything but weary resignation. But greet it we do, again and again, and we all know what’s required to read one of these books -- the willingness and ability to suspend disbelief.

That’s one of the basic principles of fiction reading, and I can certainly go along with it. But Deputy Daddy really pushes the boundaries of what I’m willing to accept by tossing out one doubtful development after another.

I mean, I can handle amnesia. If you tell me that a woman (who happens to be about eight months pregnant) bonks her head in a car accident and wakes up in a hospital with no knowledge of her identity and no memory of her previous life (but with memory intact about everything else, like how to write or tie a shoe), I can swallow it. But you’ve just about used up my per-book allotment for far-fetched plot developments.

Deputy Daddy, however, doesn’t know when to quit. Even though the woman walks away from the car accident with only minor injuries (not counting the amnesia, of course), the car itself goes off some embankment and mysteriously disappears. No one can find a trace of it, which means that no one can find any identification for the amnesia victim.

Then the woman, who comes to be known as “Marla,” wakes up convinced that Johnny Fuentes, the man who found her wandering on the beach after her accident, is her husband. And then a genuine, certified medical doctor decides that it would be better, given Marla’s agitated state, to go along with her delusion until her memory returns on its own, because telling her the truth might send her into premature labor. Right.

Johnny Fuentes is the chief of police of Mar del Oro, the little town where Marla had her accident. Although luckily single and unattached, he’s nevertheless none too happy about this turn of events. But he also happens to be a really nice guy, so he goes along with the charade, assuming that Marla’s memory will return in a matter of days.

Of course it doesn’t, and before long the uninsured Marla is being booted out of the hospital since there’s nothing medically wrong with her. Where will she go? Obviously, she expects to go home with her husband. Ridiculously, the doctor agrees. Even though there are other perfectly viable solutions - the doctor states that “the best option is for [Johnny] to continue to assume the role of her husband.” Otherwise, “the shock might set her recovery back by months.”

From this point on, I think I rolled my eyes about once a page. With little time to prepare, Johnny can’t incorporate this stranger very well into his life, so it’s a terribly thin charade. For one thing, no one in town knows her, although they all know Johnny very well. For another, she has very few possessions -- even in her “own” house, there are nothing but maternity clothes.

Marla wonders about these things and sometimes finds the gumption to ask Johnny about them, but she is satisfied with his vague and dubious answers. The author tries to make this part more believable by making it clear to the reader that in fact, Marla doesn’t want to remember her true identity.

Although at certain times “her loss of memory grated on her” and she at one point “willed her damaged memory to work,” more often she’s shoving aside painful bits of memory that drift into her mind, and finally decides that “she was better off not thinking about the past.”

So it’s supposed to be more like a suppressed memory thing - after all, as the second page of the book states, Marla has “survived the worst life had to offer.” I can’t reveal more without giving away too much, but I will say that when I finally learned about Marla’s life before the accident, I had a hard time drumming up much sympathy, having expected such a harrowing tale.

And while the suppressed memory thing was more believable than flat-out amnesia, it really made Marla seem like a wimp. I found it hard to admire a person who would rather live in a dream world than face reality, even a painful reality.

As for Johnny, he’s almost too good to be true, and certainly too good to be very interesting. He’s willing to rearrange his whole life to help a perfect stranger. He’s gentle and strong, and he calls Marla “kitten.” He’s admirable, noble, and hardworking. His only flaw is that he’s got a poor-but-proud chip on his shoulder that grows, in the final chapters of the story, to enormous proportions. While this did make him a little more interesting, it also made him irritating, at least in my eyes.

But in the end, I don’t know if that really mattered, anyway. The premise of this book would have taken a miracle to make me buy into it. And since I couldn’t believe in what these characters were doing, I couldn’t believe in them, either. The whole book felt not like a marvelous fantasy, as it must have been intended, but like a cartoon, an unsatisfying caricature of real life.

If you don’t have any particular aversion to bland characters doing unbelievable things, maybe you’ll find more to enjoy in Deputy Daddy than I did. But if you’re looking for an amnesia story with a fresh and realistic take, you won’t find it here.

--Ellen Hestand

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