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Upon a Midnight Clear

Man Shy by Catherine Mulvaney
(Loveswept #880, $3.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-44604-5
Man Shy is Catherine Mulvaney's latest offering in the doomed Loveswept line. I hope she finds a home with another publisher, because I admire her talents as a writer, particularly her fine ear for dialogue that is both witty and realistic. Man Shy has a lot to offer in that department. I just felt pulled in a few too many directions at once.

Fifth-grade teacher Mallory Scott needs a date desperately. Her ex-fiancé is marrying her younger sister, and Mallory has no desire to be the token Pathetic Spinster at the upcoming wedding. Her friend Kyle introduces her to his old college roommate, cop Brody Hunter. The fact that the meeting took place in a gay bar causes Mallory to mistakenly assume that Brody is gay like Kyle. This was a pretty funny and likeable setup. I settled in for a lighthearted romance with lots of humor.

Alas, that notion was derailed PDQ. Mallory has lots of emotional baggage, and she's unwilling to trust Brody or believe that he could be sincerely interested in her. Brody is on the hunt for a serial rapist and a bunch of thieves who are hitting various homes and businesses in the area. The tone of the book quickly changes to light suspense and Brody is knocked on the head and tossed into a Dumpster. Mallory fishes him out, then spends the night at his apartment to make sure he's not suffering from a concussion. It's all platonic – so far.

The ex-fiancé shows up and acts weaselly. The younger sister has a terminal case of Spoiled Brat-itis. Mallory's mother is a pushy broad who seems to enjoy belittling her eldest daughter, and Mallory can't quite get up the gumption to tell her where to stick her comments. Brody gets whopped on the head again and ends up in another Dumpster. This story was whirling all over the place and seemed to lose its focus. By now it was part romance, part suspense, part family drama, part woman-in-distress tale. That's a lot to pack into a category-length novel.

Actually, I felt that the book could probably have managed to pull it off if the character of Mallory had been handled a bit differently. She has little spine when dealing with her overbearing relatives, and as a foil for Brody, she just didn't seem to work. Perhaps it was because her emotional scars went so deep, running back to a traumatic childhood incident that had scarred her so as an adult. With all the extraneous plot elements, the romance seemed to take a backseat, and the resolution of her heavy emotional distress felt trite because it was handled so quickly amongst all the other action.

Nevertheless, there were parts of Man Shy I truly enjoyed. Brody is an ideal hero; patient, gentle, willing to take time to peel off the layers of Mallory's fear and find the woman underneath. Interesting personality for a cop, but Mulvany makes it work. Not once did I doubt that Brody could be a tough police officer one minute and a nice guy the next. And the secondary characters felt like everyone's irritating relatives and acquaintances.

So while I'm a bit shy of giving Man Shy a wholehearted recommendation, I have no problem at all saying "have a look and judge for yourself". And I'll keep my fingers crossed that we'll see Catherine Mulvaney's name on many future book covers. She's too promising a talent to lose.

And by the way, if you should pick up this novel, check out the inside back cover and treat yourself to one of the funniest author bios you're likely to read. I'm still chuckling!

--Cathy Sova

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