by Stef Ann Holm, contemporary (2003)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-730-4
Fed up with dealing with her sexist colleagues and Police Chief, Lanie Prescott decides to apply for a law enforcement post in Ludlow, away from her smalltown home of Majestic in Colorado. When she is accepted, she is elated. And then everything is pulled out from under her feet when the cop whose post she is filling in sues the Ludlow Police Department for wrongful dismissal and her impending employment at Ludlow is indefinitely postponed. Out of a job, Lanie wonders what to do now. The last things she needs are a broken leg and having her replacement Paul Cabrera renting a place from her. Paul is a burned-out cop from Miami hoping to recharge by accepting a transfer to Majestic. He and Lanie soon hit off, but decisions regarding Lanie's career choices will eventually weigh heavily on their blossoming relationship.
There's a lot to love in Stef Ann Holm's Undressed. Paul and Lanie, for one, is a really remarkable couple. The sexual tension sizzles and the humorous repartees really work. Paul's background isn't too dark or heavy, but it's enough to make him a slightly tortured hero with a great sense of humor. Lanie is a capable heroine who knows her stuff. Her mother Lucille is actually a senior woman with her own life and she isn't unnaturally fixated on Lanie's love life like some mothers in smalltown romances out there. Lucille's romance with Dutch the Police Chief is one for all the Jeanne Ray fans out there - these two really hit it off instead of being merely cheerleaders for the young people. This book gets a two thumbs up for excellent humor, great characterization, and a humorous yet sexy romance of both couples in this story.
So why isn't this book a keeper? Well, I am not too pleased with the way the author wraps up the matter of the men's relentless sexism towards Lanie. This book acknowledges that Lanie is getting a raw deal because the men in town (and to a lesser extent, Lucille as well) refuse to believe that she is as good as the male cops out there. However, at the same time this book also allows the sexists to get away without any repercussions. Paul's silence and refusal to stick up for Lanie - even if he knows that Lanie is good - makes him no better than Dutch and the others so this is a really a sore spot where I am concerned. Dutch's epiphany towards the end is rushed and unconvincing. And most insulting of all, it is the sexist males that once again offer Lanie a chance at getting her job back. Lanie has done very little on her own to change these men's perspectives. Again, this is another point of contention for me. I don't care if Dutch cooks and tries to hide it from his colleagues - that man is a sexist jerk and I'll be one happy reader if the author turns Dutch into a Betty Porter stalker and has Lanie arrest him at the end. Now that will be a satisfying conclusion to the story. At the end, Lanie, for all her talks of proving herself and being her own person, ends up where she starts, back in Majestic, thanks to the magnanimity of the sexist jerks that kicked her out in the first place. I'd prefer to see her move to a place somewhere else where she can kick ass on her own right.
Undressed is a good book, but it offers a very wimpy closure to the issue of sexual discrimination at work. Lanie makes it a big issue in this book, and I agree that she is unfairly treated. So how am I supposed to feel when I read about Sexist Jerk Dutch getting a happily ever after with the heroine's mother and everyone else cheering because Lanie Risked Her Life At The End so now she's as good as the donut-eating slobs she works with? Come on, Ms Holm, surely you can do better than this!
I finish Undressed feeling dissatisfied. I enjoy meeting Paul and Lanie at first, but by the last page, after Paul's silent abetting of the sexual discrimination against Lanie and Lanie's mother declaring her love for the biggest sexist of them all, I don't feel so good anymore.
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