One of the terms I’ve come across in my time reviewing novels for this site is the term TSTL, which means To Stupid To Live. This usually refers to a heroine whose dumb actions not only make no sense, but repeatedly get her and those around her into trouble. I’ve never met a heroine like that until I read Cops… and Lovers? and came across policewoman Erin McNeal. Erin, whom the author strains to prove as a capable and tough cop, nevertheless comes across as a foolish and incompetent woman who brings misery to anyone unfortunate enough to cross her path, including the reader.
At the story’s beginning, Erin, who was booted off the Chicago police force for bungling an arrest that led to her partner being shot and paralyzed, comes to Logan Falls, Illinois, for a deputy’s position. She wants to prove to herself that she isn’t a bad cop and deserves a second chance. Sheriff Nick Ryan believes that Erin is a big risk and what she really needs is some downtime and therapy, not a return to the force. But, because he owes a friend of Erin’s a favor (and he finds her stunningly beautiful), he gives her the job. Erin immediately proves Nick is right (and that she is TSTL) by taking on a pair of thugs alone in a robbery attempt. She barely escapes getting killed and Nick punishes her by turning her into a crossing guard. And that is where the heroine (and the plot) goes truly awry.
A car tries to run Erin down, nearly killing her. She dismisses the driver as a joyrider, but Nick isn’t so sure. But since Erin downplays it, so does he. Big mistake. It turns out that someone is trying to kill Erin, someone connected to the night that Erin’s partner was wounded. Worse? Erin knew this the entire time and came to Logan Falls in part to hide out. I mean, really! Is that how a cop hides from a vengeful killer: by joining the police force in a neighboring city? Is that a new program the witness protection folks have running now? A veteran of the Chicago police department wouldn’t know better?
Of course, this rather silly plot is shoved aside in at times to depict the romance between Erin and Nick. Nick is a likable, intelligent and decent guy with a troubled daughter (who was disabled in a car accident caused by her recklessly driving mother) – hence his problem with risk-taking women). You’d think he’d see Erin coming and run for the hills. Especially after Erin decided she knows what’s best for Nick’s disabled daughter and takes the girl horseback riding – against Nick’s express wishes. Yet, he and Erin fall in love in less than a week.
Erin and Nick’s romance is completely hard to believe. These two really never get to know one another. Most of their scenes together revolve around the mystery, or they are arguing about his attempts to fire her, or they are arguing that she seems to know how to raise his daughter better than he does. They really argue a lot…except for the scenes when they are having sex. But the biggest problem I had was that I could not forget that Erin lies to Nick the entire time about why she really came to Logan Falls. Her lies put everyone around them at risk when the lies blow up in her face and the killer finds her. Would a man so easily forgive so much for a woman he hardly knows? I think not.
Revelations (which make no sense and seem tacked on) at the end of the novel attempt to put Erin in a more heroic and appealing light, but for me the damage had already been done. Despite the futile attempts by the writer to twist and turn the plot to make us believe otherwise, Nick was right about Erin all along. She is a reckless woman who needs therapy to deal with her issues. Instead, all that is brushed under the carpet and we get the requitsite HEA (with an epilogue that finds Erin and Nick married one month later and expecting their own child). It’s a shame, because Nick’s a great guy and an appealing hero. He (and the reader) deserved a much better heroine than Erin McNeal.