Miss Bates loves to see historical romances beyond Regency England and anytime 19th century. She adores ye old duke and governess/housekeeper and still enjoys reading them, but she welcomed Robinson’s unusual and uniquely set 1925 Minnesota romance, with its strait-laced law-upholding federal agent hero, Ty Bradshaw, and law-bending bootlegger’s daughter, resort/club manager Norma Rose “Rosie” Nightingale. When the novel opens, Rosie is collecting her Uncle Dave from the local jail, arrested for boozing and carrying on. Except Rosie knows Dave is lethally allergic to alcohol. And, she knows something’s up when smooth-talking, broad-shouldered and too handsome for words lawyer Ty Bradshaw shows up to defend Dave. Though only 25, Rosie’s a savvy gal. She nursed and lost most of her family in the flu epidemic of ’17 and now protects her three younger sisters and father, Roger Nightingale, with all her might. She suspects Ty of being a federal agent, but Ty’s strong, capable, and frankly, quite charming presence convinces her father to keep him on to investigate Dave’s poisoning (as Ty rightly figures out) and dangers to the Nightingales’ livelihood. Papa Roger toes a fine line between a legitimate business and supplying Minnesota 13 (some very fine hooch) to the big lights in the bright cities. But Ty, posing as a private investigator (as he confesses to Rosie and Roger, “not” a lawyer) has another agenda, one he’s determined to see through, even if Rosie, Roger, the Nightingale sisters and resort keeping local families employed and fed are collateral damage.
Miss Bates loved Robinson’s premise: it was rife with conflict possibilities and delicious tension. A hero on the right side of the law and heroine on the wrong: the potential for divided loyalties, betrayals, and great make up loving was all there. Alas, while the opening of the novel engaged her, things went downhill from thereon, narrative impetus slowing to molasses consistency. Miss Bates desultorily chugged along till she reached the 40% Kindle mark. Then, a revelation! There are two types of rom readers, she thought, plot-based and character-based. The plot-based reader is happy with two-dimensional characters and overflowing with narrative events following quickly one upon another. Then, there are, like Miss Bates, the character-based rom readers: she doesn’t need much by way of “things happening,” but she revels in character growth and transformation by the relationship, by love, affection, validation, friendship. So, things happen, but it’s all in the service of character. Sadly, Robinson’s romance was of the former ilk. By the 40% mark, Miss Bates was dizzy with plot points; her investment in Ty and Rosie at nil. You know a rom’s in trouble when Tom Jones’ “Please, Release Me” echoes in your head.
A lot happens in Robinson’s romance: Rosie’s sisters need curbing, until she stops acting like a mama and lets them live their lives; Ty’s complex backstory is revealed and how he’s in White Bear Lake seeking revenge against the gangster who caused his family’s deaths (the same gangster who’s threatening Roger’s business); Ty and Rosie carry on an antagonistic give-and-take. But the romance never really gets off the ground. There are so many reasons why these two can’t be together and they’re right! It’s not the divided loyalties, or differing politics (more of that later), it’s that they never seem to exchange a moment of tenderness, or compatibility. Ty and Rosie never take on any life. They read like mouthpieces and act like chess pieces being moved around a narrative rom-board. As Ty’s revenge and Rosie’s defense of family, town, and business intensify, hero and heroine engage in political discussion. Ty goes on and on about the rule of law and Rosie takes an anti-government stance and defends the “little man’s” law-bending to feed the family, while he’s bled dry by government taxes. Prohibition was one great big mess, it’s true, but Rosie’s libertarian stance is problematic. Politics and romance can be a great mix, take, for example, Emma Barry’s The Easy Part series (terrific!). Robinson’s, on the other hand, was all politics and very little rom.
Yet, Robinson’s novel was not a dud throughout. There were a few truly terrific moments. Ty and Rosie, for example, partnered in a dance-off. Robinson’s descriptions of the new 20s dances and Ty and Rosie hopping and twirling through them were terrific. They were full of energy and joy; they were sexy and fun. Occasionally, Robinson hit all the right notes. There’s nice scene where Ty and Rosie saunter through a local fairground in search of Rosie’s runaway sister, Ginger. To hide the fact they’re looking for Ginger, Ty and Rosie act the part of a dating couple. Ty pongs a hammer on target to hit the bell game and wins Rosie a snow globe. Though Rosie and Ty continue their unsexy antagonistic ways, Rosie treasures the globe and gesture. When they – finally – kiss, here’s how Robinson cleverly describes the moment: “His lips descended toward hers with all the exquisiteness of a snowflake falling from a still and quiet sky. As mesmerizing as the ones in the little glass snow globe.” It’s tender, original, and lovely. Alas, ho-hum outweighed the good stuff. Lauri Robinson’s The Bootlegger’s Daughter, as Miss Austen says, was only of “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Lauri Robinson’s The Bootlegger’s Daughter, published by Harlequin (Historical), was released on July 21st, and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC, from Harlequin, via Netgalley.