Met Her Match
Jude Deveraux’s baffling Met Her Match features two central mysteries. The first is what happened to the heroine’s mother. The second is What Genre Is This Book, which has the cover of a contemporary romance but confused me so much that I had to perform research to make sure that was correct. In fact, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one trying to solve this mystery: Amazon put the book into categories I didn’t even know existed – including Mothers and Children Fiction. And the publisher, MIRA (a Harlequin imprint), calls it Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Romance and Romance. I fear if even the publisher doesn’t know what it is, there isn’t much hope. Does the author know? Mystery number three!
Terri Rayburn’s life – her family, her profession, her social interaction – is tied up in her father’s resort in Summer Hill, Virginia. She’s the jack-of-all-trades-in-residence until one day Nate Taggert appears. Nate is a former CIA officer come to Summer Hill to start a new chapter of his life. With his fiancée. But his fiancée is in Europe on an internship (ahem) and so Nate is staying with, and eventually helping, Terri, in an arrangement set up for them by Nate’s uncle and a friend of Terri’s family (matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match. . .).
If you think Summer Hill is like Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold, where there are no registered sex offenders and all the marriages have HEAs, brace yourself. There was something rotten in the state of Denmark and there is something rotten in Summer Hill, a place of condoms on the beach and vacationers having affairs while their spouses are away (this isn’t hyperbole – I’m referring to facts from the book). One character describes it as “New York in Virginia–with some Texas thrown in”. As someone with deep New York and Texas roots, I can’t tell you how offended I am for Texas (New York can look after itself ;)!).
Then there’s Terri and Nate. My first impression of Nate was that he was very presumptuous. I’ve certainly read romance in which the heroine is infatuated with the hero early on (I’m thinking about Fix Her Up’s brother’s-best-friend storyline), and I have enjoyed them immensely. But normally, the hero is either clueless about the infatuation or, when he becomes aware of it, is confused and flattered because by that point he’s into the heroine, too, even if just subconsciously. Nate meanwhile jumps to:
“What if she and Stacy [his fiancée] were friends? What if Terri told Stacy that they’d had a sort of flirtation? Spent some “meaningful” time together? But then, what could Terri say about their time together?”
I wanted to say to him: ‘Sir, what woman in her right mind tells another woman ‘oh, I talked to your fiancé, I think he likes me.’?’ Luckily that’s addressed in the book by Terri, who performs a glorious monologue of irritation at Nate. Terri herself is a sympathetic heroine, if you can overlook her decision to wear a t-shirt and no pants when she runs around the house she’s sharing with an engaged man (who she decides on page seventy-one is her “soul mate”). I almost wanted more for her than she got at the end of the story, and it’s ostensibly a HEA.
The actual writing is the book’s weakest point. Neither the description nor the dialogue is natural. Case in point: “When Nate looked up from the fish, she could see his pulse pounding in his throat. Wow! Whatever he was trying to say was certainly difficult for him.” The exclamatory “wow!” was just the last straw for me. And at one point a man says a woman is “a tall, skinny, shapeless blonde”. The character is deliberately trying to be mean at the time, so perhaps it’s a little exaggerated, but who uses “shapeless” as an adjective to describe a person in conversation? Also – is it possible to be skinny and shapeless? We also get third person PoVs of not only Terri and Nate but also Terri’s family members. I assume this is intended to show that the opinion of the Summer Hill community is so important. Memorably, Terri’s stepmother thinks: “She’d already ordered a dress for Terri for the Widiwick dance – and she truly hoped it got torn to shreds in passion.” Um, thank you, stepmom?
I will say that Ms. Deveraux writes great chemistry. Seeing Nate through Terri’s eyes is sexy, and the writing conveys a complex, emotional, and physical chemistry without ever leaning too hard on either explicitness or euphemisms. (Favorite line: “The furrow that ran down his backbone was deep enough to run a boat in. A boat that contained just her.”) However, the author tied her own hands by having Nate be engaged because she forced herself to keep the romantic/sexual relationship development minimal lest she end up writing a romance about cheaters.
As to the mystery. . . Much like the book, it’s an oxymoronic mystery. It involves a serious crime, and yet it never registers on a meter for Scares, Thrills, or Shivers. I wasn’t sent hiding under my bed at any point in time. I’ll admit to being interested in the outcome, and I didn’t solve the mystery before the end, but I’m not the sort of reader who likes to bring my out my inner Hercule Poirot and solve it before the writer does. The mystery resolution also – unfortunately – takes over the end of the book and shortchanges the romantic resolution.
Assigning a letter grade to this book is difficult. It’s certainly not like anything I’ve encountered before, but I can’t give it a recommendation because it strays far from the standards of contemporary romance by offering an abhorrent small town instead of a consoling one, an extra fiancé who obstructs romantic development like sheep on a country road, and writing that leaves a lot to be desired. If there was an S grade for Surprising, If Not Successful, that is what I would give Met Her Match.