Undressed is the sort of richly-detailed contemporary that’s well-suited for readers who don’t ordinarily like contemporaries. While this is a subdued book in a small-town setting, it takes a number of risks and grapples with some difficult issues that more superficially exotic books often sidestep. Although at times the book is a bit slow-paced, the characters are nuanced and the author’s mastery of using details and incidents to shape her story is beguiling.
Lanie Prescott is about to move on from her job as a deputy police officer in Majestic, Colorado. Though she’s committed to her work, her protective, macho boss refuses to let her prove herself on any assignments more challenging than meter maid and crossing guard, prompting Lanie to arrange a transfer to a new department. Unfortunately, on the night of her going-away party a series of disasters conspire to keep her in Majestic for a while: Her new job is held up due to a lawsuit and she falls and badly breaks her leg.
Meanwhile, Miami officer Paul Cabrera has moved into town to take a position on the Majestic force and get away from big-city hassles. There is tension between Paul and Lanie right away: Not only is he taking her place on the force, automatically receiving more respect and authority than she ever did, but as the new tenant of Lanie’s former duplex he has inadvertently pushed her out of her home. As a result, Lanie is forced to stay next door with her mother while she recuperates, throwing her and Paul together despite the initial tension between them.
The book’s pacing makes it somewhat too easy to put down, and while Lanie and Paul are both engaging characters, I never felt as much passion between them as I’d have liked. A secondary romance involving Lanie’s mother is in many ways riskier and more interesting than the central relationship. The author raises a number of difficult questions and doesn’t flinch away from the complexity of the answers: Should Lanie stay in her dangerous career even though it makes her mother unhappy and may require sacrificing her budding relationship? Lanie is definitely not the cliched heroine who’s passionate about her work only until the right man comes along. On the other hand, at times I felt the book made too many excuses for other characters’ attitudes, particularly Lanie’s sexist boss. It was intriguing to see a human face on what could easily have been a cardboard villain, but the story never acknowledges that his behavior isn’t merely annoying, but is instead strong grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.
Despite these issues, however, the overall quality of the storytelling is rock solid. Lanie and Paul are each intriguing characters in their own right, even if the connection between them falls a little flat. By paying as much attention to the connections between many characters, not just the hero and heroine, Undressed combines a satisfying romance with the best elements of women’s fiction. With the contemporary market increasingly flooded with romantic suspense, this humane tale of everyday life provides a welcome respite.