I wasn’t really raised reading “romance” novels, so even though Blind Dates Can Be Murder contained mystery elements this book proved to be a new genre experience for me. When read in the context of the other “Smart Chick” books, it’s my least favorite of the three.
In the first book, The Trouble With Tulip, photographer Danny Watkins realized he was in love with his childhood friend Jo Tulip. However, when she decided to set romantic relationships aside to focus on God, he secretly consented to wait for her.
Now, though, he’s going to take the plunge: he’s going to tell her he loves her! Jo, however, has no idea.
Jo Tulip, author of a Household Hints column, growing website, and small radio talk show about cleaning and keeping house, is surprisingly clueless about the things closest to her. The book opens as she embarks on a blind date (because her blog traffic improves whenever she talks about dating), but things go horribly wrong. The date ends up dead, and Jo finds herself in the middle of a police investigation into who this guy was and why he was apparently stalking her.
The mystery is complex, with multiple villains, multiple motives for villainy, and multiple goals that nevertheless tangle and converge. The book’s treatment of domestic abuse tries to deal with the characters in a three-dimensional way, and the murderer was an unexpected yet plausible twist. Slight spoiler: the mystery man at the beginning wangled a date with Jo so that he could ask her a question; the moment he asked it, I guessed what his game and motivations were, even though Jo remained focused on thinking what a lousy job the computerized matching system had done on her blind date. I was partly correct, even though the full story behind the guy’s question was more complex than I could guess at the time.
Nevertheless, the plot involving the next step in Danny and Jo’s romance makes this my least favorite book in the “Smart Chick” trilogy. Part of this is because I’ve read the scenes in Danny’s POV, and seen first-hand his devotion to Jo and his desire to be with and take care of her into her old age (any woman’s dream). Nevertheless, her complete ignorance of his feelings toward her – while they certainly created tension – annoyed me. SPOILERS:
I can’t say I’ve ever been in love. Yet Jo, for all her brilliance at removing crayon from walls, shows a startling inability to read other people. As the plot leads up to Danny’s big reveal, her single women’s Bible study starts talking about Danny, and hinting with raised eyebrows that he’s got his eye on someone. Jo huffs inwardly that he hadn’t told her who it was, in spite of them being best friends.
For the day of his big, romantic reveal, Danny and his sisters have gotten him a new outfit, the better to please Jo, but she starts stewing about what girl he’s got in his sights without even letting her in on it. As the two of them drive to the picnic spot where Danny plans to disclose his heart, Jo accuses him of having a mystery woman in his life. Danny insists he’s not in love with any “mystery woman that she doesn’t know.”
Then it happens. Danny takes Jo by the face and tells her he loves her.
And Jo recoils in shock. Maybe not physically, but she’s stunned. And though I’ve been screaming for this to happen for half the book, Jo claims she “doesn’t know what she feels”, that she’s unsure that she wants their relationship to change this way. Can’t she see this is the best of both worlds: security in your knowledge of your best friend’s character and personality coupled with the physical and emotional attraction of “romantic love”? (As though romantic love were the prime player in a marriage, anyway.) After flipping out with all the signs of suppressed jealousy while Danny was preparing his reveal, shrinking from this man so devoted to her because she’s “afraid of losing their friendship” made me want to shake her head.
I don’t know if this is common for romance. Like I said, my family isn’t big on “romance” books, and I’ve never been seriously “in love”, either. It could just be that I’d seen Danny’s point of view, and that I’d read the back cover copy of the third book in the series; nevertheless, set against Jo’s projected intelligence of the mechanical workings of crime, her feeling-driven ignorance of other people and their motivations felt contrived for the sake of inter-couple conflict.
This is Christian fic, so though there’s kissing, there’s no sleeping around or anything like that, and the characters talk about trying to discern God’s plan for their lives. Nevertheless, there was something in the characters that I found disappointing; some of the stunts the antagonists pull off stretched my technology-related suspension of disbelief (a company’s employees’ SSNs protected by nothing but a password? Unnerving). The domestic abuse subplot, while thematically redemptive, also made this book darker than the quirky, original, and sweet first book.
The climatic events of Blind Dates Can Be Murder set up elements of the third book, but ultimately I wasn’t thrilled with the portrayal of dating, romance, and marriage in this book. I must admit, it kept me thinking about these events and characters long after I finished reading — and writing heated reviews, too.
The book is available on Amazon: here.
The rest of Jo and Danny’s story is available in the rest of the “Smart Chick” series, The Trouble With Tulip and Elementary, My Dear Watkins.