Marion Lennox sure knows how to put her heroes and heroines in a dangerous pickle. The last Lennox Miss Bates reviewed had a heroine dangling over a ravine. The hero rode in on an SUV to rescue her. In Lennox’s latest, the puerile-ly-titled Saving Maddie’s Baby, Dr. Maddie Haddon, eight months pregnant, is trapped in a mine shaft with an injured miner. She went harrying in to help, with no thought to mine collapses or massive baby belly. It would appear that Lennox, at least on the basis of her last two efforts, does love a TSTL heroine, except the heroine acknowledges she’s TSTL:
Heroes and heroines don’t choose to be brave, Maddie decided. Mostly they have bravery thrust upon them. In her particular case, a heroine was created when vast chunks of rock trapped one doctor in an underground mine, a mine she should never have been near in the first place. This heroine wasn’t brave. This heroine was stupid.
And with that rueful opening, Miss Bates had to forgive the TSTL heroine because she was thoroughly engaged in Lennox’s re-united-husband-and-wife medical romance.
In Saving Maddie’s Baby, the hero, Maddie’s ex-husband, Dr. Josh Campbell, comes riding in on a chopper with the Cairns Air Sea Rescue Service. Miss Bates must say she liked these two very much and was moved by their backstories. Maddie and Josh met five years ago when Maddie was yet an intern. They fell in love, married. Maddie and Josh got pregnant and lost their prematurely-born baby, Mikey. They suffered yet more awfulness. The bad times, they sure did come fast and furious for these two. These events’ emotional toll and Josh’s inability to share his pain with Maddie broke them up. Josh is one of those stiff-upper-lipped, stalwart protectors who are great in a crisis, but shut down when their partner offers comfort and nurturing. As Maggie thinks lying in that mine:
He’d always been uncomfortable with overt displays of affection … Affection was for behind closed doors. It was almost as if he’d been ashamed to admit he’d needed her. He didn’t need her. He’d figured that five years ago when he’d walked away from their marriage.
Lennox taps into the reunited-husband-and-wife trope’s richness. Josh and Maddie’s sad backstories are richly layered and perfectly paced with the edge-of-your-seat narrative of Maddie’s rescue. Lennox weaves Maddie and Josh’s past with a crisis-ridden present where Maddie and Josh communicate via hasty, energy-conserving text messages. Until Josh recklessly makes it into the mine shaft with Maddie, incipient baby, and injured miner. Then, things only get more interesting. Their chances of survival are low and all their past fears, regrets, and love return.
Miss Bates gives full credit to Lennox for writing such a tight narrative. It exemplifies the best of the genre, especially categories’ unique ability to tell such a tight story. The knuckle-biting intensity of the mine rescue and the medical emergencies that ensue as the three wait are coupled with unabashed emotional intensity. Miss Bates liked that Maddie didn’t hesitate to wear her heart on her sleeve. And she loved that Josh held his emotions in check because of a deep sense of inadequacy, stemming from a failure to save and protect. Josh repeatedly says: “His job was to protect, not to share his pain.” These lines went in beautiful contradistinction to Maddie’s confession to Malu, the trapped miner: ” ‘Josh knows how to care, but not to share … he went so far into himself I couldn’t reach him.’ ” The mining cave becomes an emotional bell-jar, exposing Josh’s fears and vulnerabilities and allowing Maddie a way into his heart, even Josh admits:
All was quiet in the confines of the tiny cavern. He had a sudden, almost unbearable urge to cut the connection and keep the world at bay. There was a dumb thought.
Maddie is an emotionally open person, who knows well how to love and be loved, to need and be needed (witness her decision to have a baby on her own). It is to Josh’s credit that Maddie’s baby’s paternity is NOT his first thought, though it is, understandingly enough, an after-thought.
Lennox’s romances, as Miss Bates’s previous reviews indicate, always skirt the sentimental. One of Lennox’s foils to this pernicious romance-effect is what Miss Bates calls a no-nonsense banter of affection informing the dialogue. Long-time romance readers will recognize it also in Carla Kelly and Grace Burrowes. It’s of the “Buck up, love” variety and it works really really well in all three writerly cases. Moreover, Lennox doesn’t conclude her HEA in that Christmas-like cavern (think about it, “Josh”-eph helps Maddie “Mary Magdalene” give birth to her baby, no room at the inn of this cave-dwelling). She brings Josh and Maddie into the light of the above-ground world where cave’s crisis and cocooning dissipate. Josh reverts to his closed-mouthed, guarded-heart behaviour … until, he doesn’t:
Out there be dragons. She was right. He did have armour, and without it he had no weapon fierce enough to face them.” … “You’ve spent the day being a warrior, but armour can only hold you up for so long.”
Aside from the sheer beauty of these lines, Lennox has brought Josh’s emotional reticence to Maddie’s heart’s conclusion. Herein lies the problem with knights in shining armour, their armour is donned as much internally as externally. When Josh’s revelations come, they are visceral and lightning-fast, as is appropriate for a change of heart.
Does Miss Bates have any negative critique for Lennox’s Saving Maddie’s Baby? If so, then, it is a critique that the emotionally-savvy genre is subject to beyond Lennox’s romances: when romance is done well, it’s because it’s fearless about portraying the heart’s demands. And Lennox is a romance writer who’s very very good at this … but language isn’t. There’s something about the heart that defies description/articulation (a problem that theology is subject to as well). And so, in conclusion, the final chapters of Lennox’s romance suffer from a kind of emotional saturation. But it’s not her fault, it’s the genre’s. 😉 Misses Austen and Bates agree that in Saving Maddie’s Baby “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Marion Lennox’s Saving Maddie’s Baby is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on January 29th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.