Lady Be Good, Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Avon, 1999, 372 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-380-79448-9

Faithful readers of these reviews may be excused if they’d rather skip over to the next one. For what I’m about to do will be seen by many as a betrayal of my usual techno-scientific reading standards. A hidden side of my personality will be revealed! Multitudes will be shocked! For I am about to review a romance novel! And, darn it, a romance novel that I liked!

Lady Be Good came to me in a serendipitous way not dissimilar to how hero and heroine usually meet in romance novels: I was walking down a country road at the end of a rainy day when I saw a book abandoned in a ditch, its pages curled by the moisture. I kept walking, but my bibliophile instincts ultimately took over. I felt an irresistible impulsion to pick up this poor lonely paperback, rescue it from an ignoble, humid end and give it a good home. Dried and flattened, it found a place on my bookshelves.

Contrarily to what you may expect from the bulk of reviews on this site (SF, thrillers, scientific non-fiction, etc.), I don’t particularly dislike romantic fiction. True, I prefer other genres, but well-written (non-formula) romantic fiction can be a lot of fun if the author knows what she’s doing.

And Susan Elizabeth Phillips is an author who knows what she’s doing. It doesn’t take a lot of time for Lady Be Good to announce its colors. A Texan golf superstar is pressured into acting as an escort to a prim English lady visiting the area. She assumes he’s a gigolo, hardly suspecting he’s a multimillionaire with attitude problems (hence his temporary suspension from the sport). But then again, little does he know that she’s deliberately trying to acquire a reputation as a bad girl in order to shock some folks back home… This naturally enough, is only the first of many misunderstandings that drive the plot in a typically shticky, but enjoyable fashion.

Much as Science-fiction fans really dislike it whenever an outsider broadly confuses the genre with Star Trek, romance readers hate it when outsiders lump all romance with the basic Harlequin series. Well-written romance is much more than that, and Lady Be Good is an illustration why. The quality of the dialogues alone is enough to raise this novel a notch above most romantic fiction: It’s sharp, occasionally literate and crackles with intelligence. Characterization is also very well-handled, with enough quirks and convincing traits to endear us to the whole cast.

As with many other contemporary romances, the love scenes are handled with a candid frankness that can easily compare to some pornographic fiction. There’s something hot for everyone here: One subplot’s denouement even takes the form of a spanking scene!

Ultimately, though, this is the kind of novel to read for comfort value, for a little escape in a reality where good is rewarded, evil is punished, love leads exceptional people to wild impulsive decisions, everyone has devastatingly effective wit and everything ends really well. This is a romantic comedy of the purest order, so if there’s something that’s not quite right, just wait a few more pages and order will be restored.

Frankly, I enjoyed it. Life’s too short for me to devote much reading time to romance, but I’m not averse to a few good fun reads from time to time. Good romantic fiction makes you smile and cheer for its characters, which is a pretty good deal compared to a lot of dour “harder” fiction out there. My knowledge of the genre isn’t sufficient to be able to say with confidence that, hey, Lady Be Good may be a shining example of contemporary romance, but I still think it’s a pretty nifty read.

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