Somebody Wonderful (2004)

By Kate Rothwell

From the back flap: "Michael McCann has a gentle way with women, and Timona Calverson is no exception, despite her ragged clothes. She is lovely - and in dire need of immediate rescue. The brawny policeman makes short work of the ruffians that have her cornered in a back alley of old New York. Though Timona may be no more than a runaway from a house of ill repute, Michael is determined to keep her from harm, if only for one night."

"Timona can't bring herself to tell him who she really is - or that her rich family will pay handsomely for her return. She knows very little about Michael McCann, except that he is good enough to give his last cup of tea to a stranger, and compassionate enough to own the ugliest dog on earth. But the rugged Irishman's unexpected kindness has won her wayward heart - now and forever."

Oh goodness - an historical that isn't set in England? Or during the Age of Napoleon? Crap! Can this be right? Yup.

Rothwell manages something rather remarkable in this, her debut novel: she creates two characters who are genuinely nice, caring, loving people and manages to sustain a full-length story without cripplingly annoying Big Misunderstandings. No ill-fated past loves, no deep terrors, and no secret babies! When the badguy tries to convince Timona that Mick has abandoned her, does she believe him? Nope. When the badguy tries to convince Mick that he was just another of Timona's boy toys, did he believe him? Well, for a few heartbeats - coz the guy is an unemployed immigrant and has a "she's too good for me" complex - but common sense overpowers his insecurities.

I was continually surprised when things just progressed so... so... what's that word? - rationally.

I found it interesting that Rothwell described about two scenes out of three from Mick's point of view. Generally, this sort of man-heavy perspective leads to a novel featuring one of two possible moods: either too girly as the man over-sentimentalizes the affair (I'm thinking of all those squicky "as told from Mr. Darcy's point of view" P&P sequels) or too strident, lacking introspection. However, Mick is a balanced, self-aware character who rarely falls into moments of maudlin. When an informally-educated Irish cop from a tenement finds himself in the lap of luxury, of course he's going to be uncomfortable. His reactions fit.

As for Timona, I tried to write a character like her once, but I fell flat on my keyboard. That sort of happy humor is difficult to sustain for the length of a novel. Perhaps that explains Rothwell's decision to lean so heavily on Mick's more varied perspective. At times vulnerable and seemingly witless, I found myself wondering what sort of person she might have been without the scads of cash - to Timona's detriment, I'm afraid.

All of this niceness and rationality made for a rather sweet read, like one of Robin Lee Hatcher's enjoyable pre-Jesus books. I really liked these characters - as in, I'd invite them over for beers for a ton of laughs - but they did not provide the buzz of unexplored heat that more disagreeable, frustrating sorts can provide. I know, I know - cake and eat it too. I enjoyed how normally Mick and Timmy (oh, but the nickname grated) behaved, but rarely do normal folks make the best fodder for tingling romances. Oh, that was a surprise as well: Rothwell writes erotica under a pen name, so I expected just a little more heat in that department. Nope. All very tasteful and sweet, just like the characters.

I also took issue with the very casual language. I spent half the book trying to ignore words repeated in close succession or terse descriptions. The occasional metaphor stood out because of its relative rarity. Rothwell's style served to advance the plot, but I constantly felt as if the storytelling rushed past the meat of the emotion behind more tender moments.

A surfeit of secondary figures and random orphans served to bulk up the story, sometimes heavy-handedly (as if we needed to know every last soul in that tenement), but many stood firm because of Rothwell's ability to convincingly write individual voices for her characters. Timona did not sound like Mick, who did not sound like Mr. Calverson (rock on with his wacky dino self), who did not sound like Solly. I loved Solly. Bring on more psychotic, self-serving comic relief reporters.

And I very much enjoyed Timona's brother, Griffin. Funny that - seems he's in the sequel....

Vocab: gamine, palaver


Eliza said...

All those nice things I said yesterday?

Double them.

My favorite "kinds" of books are set in NYC at the turn of the century--Caleb Carr, Victoria Thompson, and I'm picking up Michael Blaine or Rhys Bowen today. Even if the writing or story isn't superior, I dive headlong into the setting. All this to say thanks for turning me on to another one book where the setting is just right!

Doug Hoffman said...

Don't listen to Kate if she bitches about her sequel. It's good.

Fine review :)

carrie_lofty said...

Now I'm curious Doug - about the bitching and the actual book ;)

Bron said...

Read the sequel. It's even better. :-)

Kate R said...

Heh. And do you know WHY it's better? Can we say Bron Clark?

I wrote it in a month and still have nightmares about that January.