by Deborah Smith, contemporary (2003)
Deborah Smith Publications, $9.95, ISBN 0-9746136-0-6
By the way, this Deborah Smith is a different Deborah Smith. The other Deborah Smith writes eccentric Southern fiction. This Deborah Smith is the founder of Restored Ministries, some religious establishment that I can't say I am familiar with, as well as Deborah Smith Publications, a publisher specializing in racy titles aimed at what seems like a Christian market. It is nice to see a publisher that acknowledges how religious people like to read about sex as much as the next person, but I do wonder about a publisher that has a section on the website for "Daily Messages" while selling books with titles like Cheating In The Next Room.
Ministers With White Collars And Black Secrets is the founder's own book and the first book launched by Deborah Smith Publications. Kiyah Simmons, our heroine, is rebounding from a broken marriage when she strikes a friendship with a charming pastor, Leon Booker, that quickly turns sexual. Oh no, what will Kiyah do when she learns of the secrets Leon tries to hide from her?
Maybe I'm just too cynical but this book's idea of controversy - men of the cloth that turn out to be crooked bastards that take advantage of their congregation - isn't the most shocking ever to me. I mean, what's next? Firemen that rob convenience stores? Military men that snap under pressure and shoot people on the streets? I'm not the kind of person to blanket hero-worship a group of people just because they happen to work in a certain idealised profession so the idea that some members of the profession are being unscrupulous barely causes me to lift an eyebrow. Now, if we're talking about Leon Pastor being a necrophiliac that makes the church musoleum his hunting ground, maybe I'll lift an eyebrow but thankfully Ms Smith doesn't go in that direction.
At any rate, the story isn't too interesting for me because the story is as long as it is due to Kiyah being pretty blind to a contrived extent to the clues telling her that her grand love affair is not as great or Jesus-sanctioned as she'd like to believe. This is basically a story where the reader ought to have a high tolerance for heroines that are clueless beyond belief at times and I'm afraid I'm not that kind of patient reader. I find Leon written in a little too obvious manner as a hustler under his collar and the signs pointing to his inner Monica Lewinsky are just as obvious. Therefore it is hard for me to sympathize with Kiyah. I don't want to get into spoilers here so let me just say that Leon's secret would have been impossible to hide, given his popularity, so that is one annoying plot hole right there that threatens to swallow the entire story whole.
Kiyah's characterization is problematic as well since she's pretty shallow. She enjoys money and designer goods, which of course aren't a problem with me since I don't mind having more money in life to splurge on designer goods myself. My problem is the author telling me that Kiyah is a better person than that when she doesn't show me how Kiyah is this better person. Kiyah is said to be a better person than her ex-husband who spent money on cars and bimbos, for example, but I don't find Kiyah's spendthriftness on designer labelled clothes and perfumes any different from the ex's spending money on cars. Likewise, Kiyah is said to be a better parent to her kids, but all I get in this book is Kiyah paying little attention to them other than when she's buying them designer stuff. Sure, I'd be happy if my parents buy me Gucci and Prada when I'm a kid, but there is nothing in this book to show me how warm and loving Kiyah is as a mother. Ms Smith could have in this instance put in some mother-kiddie bonding scenes that would have established Kiyah better as a character. Ms Smith tells me too much in this story when I'd rather she shows me things. The secondary characters like Kiyah's sisters are written to be chick-lit stereotypes but these characters are unlikeable, shallow, and even spiteful. I find myself thinking that if God loves this world so much, He'd better not make these characters breed.
But the biggest strike against this book is the horrific writing. There are plenty of grammatical, spelling, and even punctuation mistakes in this book. There is also this annoying tendency by Ms Smith to drive home something by using CAPS. Like, oh no, Kiyah is EXCITED. Or ANGRY. Or SCARED. How ANNOYING. The use of caps makes Ms Smith come off as amateurish. Reading Ministers With White Collars And Black Secrets can be a very painful chore because the writing is riddled with errors and annoying authorial quirks (like the caps) that distract me from the story. The ending is also rushed, something that could have been remedied if the author allows Kiyah to get a clue a little faster in the story, with enough obvious loose ends to allow for a sequel.
While the sex scenes aren't red-hot explicit - this is definitely not a Zane novel - there are plenty of profanity, which I must admit gives me a perverse kind of thrill since this is a book marketed to a Church-going audience. I like the idea that there are a bunch of radical Church-going people out there that cuss like a sailor without reservations and read racy stories about Christians getting down and dirty like nobody's business, although true to traditional "cautionary tales" of this sort, Ms Smith remembers to tell the readers to "do not as her characters do". Just read, enjoy, and openly condemn the behavior of the characters whenever the guilt sets in, that kind of thing, heh.
By the way, I am reading the first edition of this book. A visit to the author's website reveals that there is a revised edition of this book that has a different ISBN number from the book I'm reading. Does this mean that the revised edition has cleaned up the annoying use of caps, the spelling mistakes, the weird use of punctuation, and other mistakes that shouldn't have showed up in the first place? I don't know since I don't have a copy of the revised edition. Therefore, what I say in this review stands for the original edition but may not apply to the revised edition since the author could have removed the errors and maybe even changed parts of the plot to cover up the holes in the revised edition.
At any rate, the Ministers With White Collars And Black Secrets I've read could have been a campy and enjoyable read if the heroine isn't so dense and the book has been edited more carefully before it is sent off to the printers. I'll be interested to see what Deborah Smith has to offer in the future because I really like the idea of a Jackie Collins for church-going people, where instead of bad sexy rock stars with big... er, attitudes we have bad sexy priests with just as big, er, attitudes. Do you think we'll get a sexy story set in a Catholic girl school where there are many handsome priests (and maybe even some randy nuns) that teach hormonal young girls matters like religious fervor and holy, holy Hallelujah? Whatever the future may hold, let me just say: rock on, Ms Smith!
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
The revised edition at Deborah Smith Publications
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