by Kat Martin, contemporary (2004)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7381-X
"Drenched in cowboy". Now that's an icky phrase. How does one get drenched in cowboy? I have this picture in my mind of a poor helpless woman tied on the floor of a honky-tonk bar as drunk and smelly cowboys swing their heads like they're in some deranged shampoo commercial to drench the poor woman with their sweat. But I think Ms Martin means that one is in love with a cowboy when the heroine Patience Sinclair feels that she's drenched in cowboy.
Desert Heat is a cobbled-together patchwork of stereotypes. It's probably presumptive of me to say that Kat Martin isn't even trying here, but that's the impression I get here from reading this overpadded Harlequin American/Harlequin Intrigue hybrid. The eldest Sinclair sister Charity abandoned the Evil City for Yukon (Outback Joe - hah, Ms Martin has that TV show beat by a year), so now it's Patience's turn to find her own uncouth, smelly "real man" across the Romance Novel Land version of honky-tonk America. The cowboy in question is Dallas Kingman. I think it's safe to say that Ms Martin must have eaten a big slice of cheese before she names her characters.
Every modern contemporary romance heroine must pay lip service to some semblance of independence, so Patience wants to have a career in academia as a history professor. But first, she wants to escape the gilded cage that is her life in Boston for cowboy drenching, so she's off to join a traveling rodeo company. Meanwhile, Dallas thinks that she's just some dumb rich ditz out to get a pint of cowboy sweat, but her stalker ex-boyfriend Tyler may be behind the "accidents" plaguing the company (which is owned by his uncle), so love and plot contrivances make sure that he's never getting rid of Patience. Oh, and Dallas and Patience fall in love. I hope they don't name the boys Austin and Texas and the girls Submit, Virtue, and Martyr.
There's the accident subplot as well as another B-plot about a Sinclair ancestor lady solving a murder, but these come off as just token suspense plots required to sell this book as a romantic suspense. They aren't bad and there are some surprises here, but the author doesn't succeed in making me care for them either. Patience is... well, she's a heroine and that's the best I can say for her. She doesn't feel like a person, she's just a patched-together character from several uninspiring clichés - bad boyfriend, contrived sexuality, inexplicable attraction to a man that treats her like dirt at the beginning. Likewise, Dallas suffers from the same problem - he too is just several clichés cobbled together. If I want to ask why, as in "Why can't Patience quickly see what a lousy guy her ex Tyler is and ditch him fast?" or "Why does she persist in being attracted to Dallas when he is obviously not interested (which is what a sensible woman would assume when he's calling her names and asking her to go back to Boston)?", I will not get good answers from Ms Martin's story. The internal conflicts are very predictable, as expected given that the characters are such stereotypes.
What truly kills this book though is the heavy sense of padding especially in the middle portions. Unless the reader delights in having Kat Martin lecturing Rodeology 101, Desert Heat is going to get tedious fast. Given that this book is predictable, heavy with clichés, padded to the brim with filler moments, and hence as boring as watching dishwater-colored paint dry, Desert Heat is a barren and arid zone where entertainment is concerned.
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