Smart Mouth by Erin McCarthy
(Brava Kensington, $14.00, NC-17) ISBN 0-7582-0585-3
Smart Mouth is Erin McCarthy’s second book (the first was last year’s collection of three novellas, Bad Boys Online). McCarthy’s sophomore effort shows that she is a writer with considerable talent. With few exceptions, Smart Mouth kept me engrossed from beginning to end.

When FBI agent Derek Knight meets reporter Reese Hampton, it’s not exactly a smooth introduction. Derek is investigating a price-fixing scheme by Delco Pharmaceutical, and his confidential informant tells him that he left incriminating documents for Derek in a red Ford Taurus rental car. Unfortunately, Derek’s rental car is a green Ford Taurus. When he approaches the driver of the red car, she hurries into it and drives away. Derek knows that she believes he’s planning to rob her (or worse), but he needs those papers, so he continues the pursuit.

Reese is the woman in the red car; she’s also a reporter, though “She was stuck with the Newark News, which was one third obituaries, one third sports, and another thirty percent delegated to entertainment. Her beat, lucky her. The remaining three and a half percent was for the news and current events.” After a few mishaps, Derek tracks her down in her hotel room. But before he arrives, Reese opens the envelope, realizes that this could be a big story, and photographs the contents.

Under the circumstances, Reese and Derek have reason to be wary of each other; their goals are seemingly incompatible. Reese wants to be in on the investigation and to cover the story. She sees this as her big break. Derek wants to continue the investigation without interference and to avoid trouble. He explains: “My boss would be happy to see me shuffling papers for the rest of my life. He’s demoted me twice and lies in wait for me to screw up so he can gleefully slap me with an infraction.”

These two positions don’t appear to allow much compromise, but Reese and Derek agree uneasily (at first) to a professional partnership. Their intense mutual attraction soon makes them agree—more enthusiastically—to a personal partnership.

Smart Mouth offers a fast-paced, humorous read. In many respects, Derek and Reese are the classic odd couple. He is committed to getting the evidence he needs to convict the owner of Delco. Reese is in town only to cover a wedding. Yet as they work together to get the information they both need, their physical relationship develops into something deeper and more substantial.

Reese is the smart mouth of the title. She’s sassy, spunky, though she has moments when she seems too stubborn. Several times, she does exactly the opposite of what Derek asks her to do. His law-enforcement perspective outweighed her journalistic needs, but McCarthy minimizes the possible annoyance factor by ensuring that Reese’s actions don’t put her — or the investigation — in danger. However, by the end of the book, I found myself feeling frustrated by the numbers of times she takes action without consulting Derek. Still, she’s easy to like. Her sense of humor makes her a good match for Derek, who can be too serious.

Derek, or “Knight,” as Reese often calls him, makes a wonderful hero. Dedicated, focused, and dynamic, he’s a perfect combination of passion and tenderness. I loved watching him interact with Reese and seeing their story unfold.

If you enjoy fun plots, dynamic characters, and passionate writing, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Smart Mouth. Two of Derek’s coworkers are in an excellent position for a story of their own. If it’s anything like this one, I know I’ll enjoy it.

--Alyssa Hurzeler

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