Book reviewer Betsy Tremaine thinks police detective J. Soldier McKennitt's books are pure drivel. She doesn't care that they've sold millions of copies and spent weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list; she has her strong opinions--no matter if her only forum is the tiny town of Port Henry's local newspaper. Soldier is a bit offended and really wants to know what she finds so objectionable, and the two begin a strange e-mail correspondence. He pictures Betsy as a "dried up prune" and she, in turn, pictures him as a grumpy old man.
Although Betsy is not a "prune", she has long been beaten down by her mother's underhanded comments about her appearance and doesn't have much self esteem. Betsy sees her hourglass figure as unattractive to men. Soldier's partner was killed in the line of duty, and he has vowed never to fall in love and get married, in order to protect himself and others around him. When the two come face-to-face at a writers' conference, sparks fly in more ways than one. Can Soldier and Betsy ignore their tumultuous past and give in to their fiery attraction? When Betsy's life is endangered by a stalker, will Soldier step up and offer protection?
The Damsel in This Dress is a fun combination of humor, steamy romance, and suspense. Betsy and Soldier both have a heart hardened toward love. They've been burned and have auras of self-protection. Betsy's reaction to being stalked is very natural and progresses from disbelief to outright fear. Although Soldier is an accomplished author, he doesn't deny his roots as a police officer and goes to many lengths to keep her safe, despite their antagonism toward each other.
When I say that the romance is hot, it definitely sizzles. This book is not for the sweet romance lover, it's for those who enjoy their love stories heart-poundingly passionate. The mystery and the development of the love story make for a supreme amount of tension, but Marianne Stillings provides a dynamic conclusion. The mystery and romance components are well-balanced and flow together seamlessly. The back cover says nothing about the mystery, and I was pleasantly surprised while reading to find the bonus of suspense.
If you enjoy intricate wordplay between characters, The Damsel in This Dress is definitely the book for you. There are many instances of clever puns and comebacks that provide added humor. The scene in the Chinese restaurant where everyone is making up Confucius sayings is not to be missed. Debut author Marianne Stillings is one to watch. Her next book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evie, is due out in April 2005, and Claire and Present Danger (featuring Soldier's brother Taylor and Betsy's best friend Claire) is due out in 2006.