Sweet Talking Man
by Betina Krahn, historical (2000)
Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-57619-4


One of my favorite humorous historical romance authors Betina Krahn returns to suffragist movements ala The Last Bachelor (my favorite of hers). Unfortunately, Sweet Talking Man, while retaining the atmosphere and wit Miss Krahn is good at, has a plot that just sputters to a halt after the brothel scene and never recovers.

The plot is this: Beatrice Von Furstenberg is a brilliant businesswoman. After her crabby husband has the grace to die off before page one, she sets to being a suffragist with a vengeance. Women must be heard, and Beatrice seems determined to do just that. She's very shrill and when she screams, as two unlucky kidnappers would discover, ear drums shatter. Methaporically and almost literally.

What happens is that roguish politician Connor Barrow agrees to help his cousin Jeffrey in what he thinks is an opportunity to give two ne'er-do-wells a job. Instead, Jeffrey asks the ne'er-do-wells to kidnap and rob Beatrice. Jeffrey would come to her rescue, and maybe then Jeffrey would be allowed by that harridan to marry Priscilla, her niece.

The whole plan is doomed from conception. The two dumb lugs end up carting Beatrice to a brothel, where she is held for... well, no one knows what to do with her. But Beatrice, the suffragist she is, decides to make it her mission to save the gals in the brothel. Connor has to step in to stop Beatrice from wrecking more havoc, and here is where their differing politics clash.

He thinks women are annoying and are just demanding attention with their silly politicking. She thinks men are all users and will do anything to put their women down. Can they find a middle ground?

They do, but it's a long way getting there. There's a choppy, abrupt feel to Beatrice and Connor's romance. It's like a Wham! Bicker! Pow! Snogging time! transition - did around 100 pages got lost in the printing plant? - and I just can't see any reason why these two bicker-happy people could snog just like that. Unless it's a hormones thing, but hormones are never good for long-term relationships without the brain involved. I heard that on Oprah, by the way.

But there are some great lines from Beatrice and Connor. And despite the minimal chemistry and sexual tension they generate, they do seem to genuinely like each other by the end of the story. It will be interesting to see how they turn out ten years down the road. And I do love the whole era brought to life in STM - while the rich are very rich, the poor and the middle-class are the most interesting lot with their dreams and aspirations. The author allows me a glimpse of this, which is a very nice change from the usual focus on the rich and titled.

But yikes, the suffragists! They are depicted as complete twits in this story, which is unfortunate as the author also packs in a lot of heart when it comes to women's plight in late 20th-century times. The women here are like hens playing politicians, all clucking and no substance. Ultimately, I can't help feeling that maybe Connor is right at first, at least in the world of STM: women are too emotional and let their heart override common sense when it comes to politics. Let them see a couple hug and their brains turn to mush. Love will save the day, let's all light a candle in church, etc etc etc - I doubt anyone would want to listen to these sort of suffragists.

STM isn't a bad novel. It is an okay read, despite the stereotypical All women are ruled by their hearts portrayal of women, but as a romance, it just won't do. The two main characters generate minimal fireworks. I've read a better love-amidst-the-suffragette-movement tale by this author, although that one is set in England: The Last Bachelor. Despite the godawful schmaltz of TLB's final scenes, that book has a couple that spars so well even as they generate enough electricity to power the town of London and maybe a few shires as well. It is what STM is only a pale shadow of.

Rating: 74


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