A Case for Romance

Courting Trouble

A Hint of Mischief

 
Runaway Hearts by Katie Rose
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-58142-2
****
While many young ladies may think a lack of suitors disastrous, Mary Lou Finch has resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood and scholastics. That is until she learns daddy invested their entire life savings on a thoroughbred that has turned up missing. Mary Lou was counting on using her dowry money to support herself! Determined to not be a destitute spinster, she makes her way to Milltown, NY and the scene of the crime.

Seems like a good plan, until the owner of the missing horse finds her snooping in his stables. Pierce Thorndike has had his eye out for suspicious characters. Not only was his prize thoroughbred stolen, but also the horseís trainer was found murdered. Mary Lou immediately intrigues Pierce, and when she stammers that she is at Graystone Lodge to apply for the governess position - well he knows sheís not being entirely truthful. Nevertheless, the fact is, his son needs a teacher, and Edward has already managed to chase off a good many.

By day, Mary Lou tutors Edward, coaxing the boy out of a shell he erected after his motherís death and the trainerís murder. By night, she takes to snooping for clues, only to have Pierce turn up at inopportune times. The closer she gets to unraveling the mystery, the more she is drawn to the handsome, brooding man of the house.

Runaway Hearts is a fun, light-hearted romance. There may be a murderer on the loose, but this book is anything but dark. Mary Lou is an interesting heroine, and one that I immediately liked. She is described as unfashionably plump, with voluptuous curves, and a weakness for sweets. My kind of girl. On the inside, she is quite intelligent, having been to university, with a compassionate nature that works wonders on both Edward and Pierce.

Pierce is a widower, all business, and out of sorts where is son is concerned. The child needs a firm hand, but also understanding. As Mary Lou helps Edward, she in turn helps Pierce, who feels guilty over his wifeís death and that of his trainer. What is refreshing here, is that while his first marriage was the typical unhappy one found in thousands of other romance novels, he does not think that all women are evil, and doesnít even actively loathe his former wife. This displays maturity in him, and makes him a worthy match for the inquisitive Miss Finch.

While a sweet romance, I was less satisfied with the mystery in Runaway Hearts. It is pretty simplistic and rather on the light side, which may be just the thing for strict romance readers. However, if you are an equally rabid mystery fan, as I am, you will likely figure this one out rather early on. Moreover, while Mary Lou is a worthy romance heroine, she isnít going to put my favorite amateur sleuths out of business. The way she happens upon clues, and formulates theories is nothing extraordinary, but the men surrounding her find her deductive reasoning skills exceptional. Pierce would do good to look into hiring a more competent police force, who are unable to crack the case, while a governess comes in and ties everything up in a neat package.

I was swept up in the romance as the author provides some well down tender moments between the couple. While the mystery needed some oomph, Roseís nicely done characterizations were such that what could have been a big problem for this reader, became nothing more than a minor quibble. Her creation of Mary Lou alone kept me turning the pages, adding Pierce and Edward into the mix only sealed the deal.

--Wendy Crutcher


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