As I was reading Calamity Jayne, I kept checking to make sure it really was labeled “Romance.” I must have checked five times, and yep, it was. Had the label not been there, I would have guessed this author was aiming for Chick Lit/Mystery. Either way, it would have missed the mark. There’s very little romance, but the heroine is not compelling enough to make for a good Chick Lit heroine either.
Tressa Jayne Turner has a life that has basically gone nowhere. She’s well known in her small Iowa town as a accident waiting to happen, and many people still think of her as Calamity Jayne, a nickname bestowed on her by her brother’s friend when she was a child. Not only is she accident prone and a little ditzy; she’s not exactly an overachiever. A community college dropout, she now works two crappy jobs – one at her uncle’s ice cream store, and another at a WalMart-esque store. She doesn’t have any particular plans to do anything else at the moment.
Her life gets a little more exciting when she leaves work one night. Her aging car gets a flat, and when she gets out to change the tire, she discovers a dead body in the trunk and an envelope with ten thousand dollars cash. She runs like crazy and bumps into Rick Townsend, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources officer, and the same guy who gave her the “Calamity” nickname. Rick returns to the car with her, and they discover that the dead body is gone, along with the cash. Rick doesn’t really believe that there was a dead body in the first place, and accuses Tressa of making the whole thing up.
Tressa knows she wasn’t imagining things, and when a burly, tattooed guy accosts her at work, demanding the money, she is even more sure. Subsequent events convince her that she has really stumbled on something big. Her trailer in ransacked, her sister’s car (that Tressa was driving) is totally trashed, and someone even tries to kill her grandmother’s cat. Tressa reacts by going into investigative reporter mode, tailing and questioning the deceased man’s wife and his law partner. Meanwhile, she runs into Rick’s grandpa, who lives on the same street as the dead man’s widow. He becomes her partner, and they run into a few more dead bodies. Tressa finally becomes semi-legitimate when she gets a job at the local paper. Now she really is a reporter, and she pursues the case in earnest.
While all this is going on, I think Tressa is supposed to be falling in love with Rick. He certainly shows up often enough, which made me wonder if he really had a job – he never seems to be working. Tressa, on the other hand, does seem to show up for work occasionally, but she never seems to find time to sleep (what with all the sneaking around looking for clues). Anyway, since the book’s spine declares it to be a romance, I kept hoping for some evidence of love between Rick and Tressa. They share a few unconvincing kisses, but that’s it. No longing, no mental lusting, hardly any flirting worth mentioning. I remained completely unconvinced.
The book’s plot was actually okay. Not stand-out terrific, but at least good enough to keep me turning the pages. It was a little farfetched, but it almost worked as a mystery. That’s the “plus” in my D.
And then there’s everything else. My first major problem was Rick. He’s a jerk, period. He thinks it’s hilarious to make dumb blonde jokes all the time and tell Tressa how stupid she is. I didn’t find this funny at all, mostly because Tressa really was stupid and directionless. Poking fun at someone’s ditzy maneuver may be a little funny if you are actually making fun of a smart person who made a silly mistake. Ridiculing someone who already has self-esteem issues and works two dead-end jobs is just unkind. He also refuses to believe her when she says she found a dead body in the trunk of her car, even though that’s really not something people make up, and it’s completely evident that someone is out to get her. You would think that by the time someone shot at her and other dead bodies start popping up, he would be willing to concede that perhaps she was right. You’d be wrong.
Then there’s Tressa. The main emotion she inspired was pity. I felt bad that she couldn’t figure out what to do with herself, and I felt bad that her life sucked. But I couldn’t relate to her on any level. Perhaps if she was working crappy jobs that she hated because circumstances had forced her into it, I could understand. Heck, I could even understand if she worked at a convenience store because she enjoyed it. But there is no compelling reason for her lack of direction. Once she gets into investigative reporter mode, it’s almost worse. She bungles everything with her ham-handed approach to solving the case. She awkwardly questions witnesses and blunders her way through several encounters with the police. It’s embarrassing, really.
Finally, there is the matter of the writing. This is the author’s debut book, and it shows. The main problem is the overly exuberant use of imagery and folksy similes. Obviously it’s a powerful tool when used well, but Bacus uses it way too often. To use a Bacus-like simile myself, it’s like she’s making soup that calls for a teaspoon of salt, and she dumps in a cup and a half. Salt is all you taste. Some examples:
- “I was at once suspicious of this fellow who showed up more frequently than zits on a first date.”
- ”My romanticized vision of Townsend dissipated like steam on a mirror.”
- ”I tried to tell myself it wasn’t Taylor’s voice shrieking like the lead female in our local amateur operatic…”
Now imagine a whole book of those jumping out at you every few paragraphs.
Overall, this is one to pass up, even if you like mysteries, and even if you like first person POV (which I do). With a mean hero and a listless heroine, this is not the stuff of romance – or Chick Lit, either.
|Review Date:||January 29, 2006|