Think Lorna Landvik on Viagra. Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie (Tell Me Lies, Crazy for You) is a witty romp through a small town in Ohio peopled by a host of charming characters (both foolish and wise) and rich with the inherent sweetness of Landvik's landscape. It's also got plenty of what my junior high girlfriends called "good parts," the pages that get marked with dogears and passed around between classes. Integral to the story and within the bounds of a reluctant romance, the steam adds just the right touch of sizzle to Crusie's latest.
Sophie and Amy Dempsey come to Temptation, Ohio, from Cincinnati, trying to break out from their wedding-video business by filming a short audition tape to flog their ex-sister-in-law's dead horse of a film career. The sisters' sensitivity to their background (they come from a long line of nomadic con artists and spent their childhoods being debased and degraded by rich "town" kids) goes into yellow alert the moment they drive into town ("Welcome to Tempation -- We Believe in Family Values" reads the sign at the town's entrance). The first people they run into (literally, by missing a stop sign) are a stiff-necked city council member and his scatterbrained wife. Like most small towns, news blankets the area in about two minutes, and soon Temptation is abuzz with talk of the "movie" being shot in town.
Enter Phineas Tucker, unwilling third-generation mayor and loving, lonely single father. When his chief political rival suggests that the city pass an anti-porn ordinance (basing their judgment of the nascent film's subject on its star's past work), Phin knows he's in for trouble. He and the police chief visit the farm where the film is to take shape, and falls reluctantly into unrecognized love at first sight with the equally taken (and equally reluctant) Sophie.
While the mayor and the buttoned-up straight girl with a con's genes try to alternately fight and embrace their attraction, the town goes crazy over the movie shoot. Phin's mother, his mayoral rival, and the actress' estranged second husband all want the Dempseys and their movie out of Temptation. When one of the sprawling cast of characters dies suspiciously, it looks like Sophie's about to be betrayed by a town-boy yet again, and all bets are off.
Crusie's prose is sassy and fun, and Welcome to Temptation might be a rewarding toe-dip into the pool of romantic (with a small "r") escapism for readers who don't normally go for that kind of thing. The author doesn't flinch from writing "good parts" (although her main character isn't quite as unbound). As a result, the steam fits. Even better, good triumphs over evil and everybody who needs to be in love ends up that way. Welcome to Temptation is worth the read if only for the town council's approach to the issue of Tempation's jutting, flesh-colored water tower. A perfect wrap.