Fair Play
by Deirdre Martin, contemporary (2004)
Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19457-4


In a way, Dierdre Martin's Fair Play is even weaker than her debut Body Check. While I enjoyed Body Check, I find the issues faced by the characters in Fair Play dealt with in a too-long drawn-out manner that tests my patience with the story.

Theresa Falconetti's last date with a hockey player ended with him almost raping her. You can read all about that incident and the fallout in Body Check. Today, her experience has understandably given her an aversion to sportsmen and athletes. In the case of this book though, Ms Martin unfortunately reduces Theresa's emotional baggages into simplified suitcases labelled "Pushing Him Away For Too Long" and "Dating A Very Obvious Mr Wrong" - two very annoying plot contrivances that end up making Theresa more like a heroine testing the limits of my patience with her obtuse behavior instead of making me sympathize with her much. The fact that Ms Martin uses the ever-convenient "Theresa really needs help to keep her business afloat" plot device to force Theresa to come in contact with Michael makes this character comes off as even more artificial than she should be.

The hero Michael Dante has always carried a torch for Theresa and in this book, he makes his moves on her after he hires her PR firm in an attempt to modernize the family restaurant business. And Michael, oh Michael. He's so charming, so romantic, so gallant, so... so... so "What the heck is she thinking to treat him like that?" While a woman's distrust of men in general after a near-rape ordeal is understandable, Theresa crosses the line from being realistic to being just plain annoying here when she keeps pushing Michael away and trying to force herself to love a Mr Wrong that becomes more and more a cartoon villain with every page. Michael may be written as a Prince Charming, but his baggages are familiar: he's an athlete that's in danger of being replaced by younger and more marketable replacements and he is at odds with his family whose values are quite different from his. Unlike Theresa whose baggages are dumbed down and made one-dimensionally painful to read, Michael is a more complex character in comparison. You can guess which character I'd prefer to read and which I'd prefer to see move away to another country never to plague my reading ever again.

There is one scene I really enjoy: Michael finally having enough and lashing out at Theresa. Boy, that scene is good. Can we say "vicarious head-bashing with a briefcase filled with bricks", people?

Deirdre Martin is a good writer. Her prose is engaging and her sense of dialogue and pacing are good enough to make Fair Play a book that's very readable in every sense of that phrase. But the main characters' love story are too long-drawn to sustain my interest in this story. Maybe in a shorter series format, yes, this book would be an excellent Harlequin Temptation. But at its current length, Fair Play has Ms Martin trying to flog the momentum going and she does this very well, but my enthusiasm for the main couple just isn't enough to have me enjoy this book as much as I should have.

Rating: 75


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