Body Check
by Deirdre Martin, contemporary (2003)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-13489-9


Deirdre Martin's debut is riddled with flaws that is probably understandable. If the dialogues can sometimes feel as if they are refugees from a melodramatic soap opera sometimes, hey, the author was a scriptwriter for One Life To Live. Speaking of which, I wish there is a man of cloth like the new Joey Buchanan from that soap in my area. I'll go to confess my sins of lust every day.

Anyway, oh yeah, this book. I like it. I have a great time reading it, even if it's riddled with so many somewhat annoying problems. Maybe I'm just jaded, but when a romance novel that is, well, all about the romance comes along and grabs me, I'm more willing to just enjoy. No gimmicks: no crazy matchmaking old ladies, no Daddy's girls trapped in Cowboy Honky Tonk land seeking walking sperm banks to beat biological clocks, no FBIs or SEALs, no wisecracking villains, no serial killers - nothing but blissful romance. I used to read romance novels like this one. It's nice to realize that some of these types of books are still around.

Fans of sports romance, take note. Janna MacNeil is a publicist in charge of a big headache: the New York Blades hockey team. The corporation that pays the salaries of these overgrown butt-slapping guys want the team to turn into the Backstreet Boys of hockey: good behavior for the grannies 24/7 and none of that hiring strippers to do obscene things with the Stanley Cup, please. Sharing is good, but group coke-snorting from the Stanley Cup is also a no-no. But these boys, led by star player Ty Gallagher, are not going to make it easy for her.

And of course, you know what's going to happen to Janna and Ty, don't you?

Thing is, the author is very transparent in her plotting. Reading this book, I can easily picture the author thinking, "Gee, now is this a Great Anvil of Enlightenment moment of what?" as she creates her scenes. Most of the scenes feels forced. Maybe because I find most of Ty's personality too vague to get a grasp of those scenes. For example, the author is most guilty of placing the heroine in a deliberately "wrong" scene just so that Ty can "correct" her. This will lead the heroine to see the goodness in him. It's very transparent, Ms Martin, when you suddenly have Ty lecturing Janna about her needing to believe in her business skills to follow her dreams, when Ty is far from an open-minded guy to launch into such speech in the first place. Janna's lil' brother is another obvious "He's good with the kids, so he must be kind!" plot device.

The problem with these scenes is that they make it seem as if external circumstances - or the miracle known as plot contrivance - are forcing Ty to change. I still have no clear understanding of why he is so reluctant to "sell out" by playing with Janna's plans to present the team with a great (manufactured) goody-goody facade. I find it hard to believe that a man like Ty would launch into heavy-handed lectures about determination, preseverance, and teamwork when his own behavior shows that he is wishy-washy in those departments himself. Much of Ty's conflicts - his commitment phobia, for example - don't make sense much because I never know who he is or what he is thinking.

At first, it's good for Janna to call him on his inconsistencies. That girl has spine, I like it, just as I like how she stands tall to the old boys' network in her company without compromising her values. But as the story progresses, her Independent Women song changes into Ty Will Take Care Of Everything. Seriously, that woman is in danger of being completely spineless and codependent on Ty if she's not careful by the time the story ends. This is strictly my own bias here, but I'm also quite annoyed that an attempted rapist gets off too lightly in my opinion.

But what works in this story? It's hard to explain it, but despite me ending up with a long list of notes about the problems in this story, I still have a good time in the end. Janna turns into limpet by the end, yes, but her love story with Ty is just nice. Ty's sensitive personality makes little sense to me because he is so underwritten, but at the same time, I find myself liking that guy. Just like I like Janna, actually. Janna's behavior makes sense even if I don't agree with her sometimes. These characters behave like people might do - Ty's prospensity to launch into speeches aside - and I think that's the charm. I mean, sure, the guy's a hockey player, but in the end, he walks away learning that sometimes there is life after hockey.

Despite having taking several wrong detours and skidding too many times, in the end Deirdre Martin manages to score one with her debut. I like it. The book is unpolished and it could use some stronger characterization, yes, but at the same time, it is very readable, the characters and the romance are nicely done, and it makes me smile at the end. So many problems, yet so easy to enjoy - Body Check is a fabulous example of a great book just waiting to happen. Maybe one day. I don't think Rachel Gibson should fear for her own sports romance series soon or that Susan Elizabeth Phillips should worry that her football trilogy will be rendered irrelevant. For now, maybe.

Rating: 85


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