A few weeks ago we at Lady Smut were contacted by a perfectly nice book publicist who wanted to know if we’d be interested in reviewing a newly released romantic comedy, Close of Play by PJ Whiteley. As our regular readers know, we don’t do a lot of reviews on this blog, but this book caught my eye ’cause it was written by a guy. Interesting. So I took the plunge and read it.
This isn’t, of course, the first romance written by a man. There’ve been a smattering of them over the years, most notably and successfully Leigh Greenwood and Jennifer Wilde. But it’s still an unusual genre for a man and and this one that I’ve just read is a romantic comedy, more unusual still. Let me give you the lowdown:
Brian “Colin” Clarke is a 44-year-old ultra conservative, rather religious attorney and cricket player. He meets Elizabeth Giles, a progressive former nun. Intriguing premise! Different as their backgrounds may be, sparks fly and the relationship begins. Kinda.
As we’ve maintained over the years, we Lady Smut writers are fully supportive of other writers and it’s just not our schtick to be overly critical. Leave it for someone else cause writing is too damn hard. Anyone who wants to trash writers ought to try their hand at it first themselves. But I’ll be honest – there were some challenges with Close of Play, the primary one being that I couldn’t figure out who the audience is.
To begin with, the POV is first person and entirely the hero’s. There isn’t a single chapter or scene devoted to the heroine’s perspective. OK, well, that’s not ideal but it would still be doable if we could at least get to know her. Yet after reading the entire book I never came to care about her because I honestly felt I didn’t know her. Being a fallen nun is a draw, but I wanted to know more. Why did she feel she’d gotten the ol phone call from God to serve in the first place only to abandon the calling later? Does she wrestle with guilt over her decision? Does she ever think she was wrong? And mainly, as the relationship develops, what kinds of emotions is she experiencing? Unfortunately we never get to learn any of this.
For a “romantic comedy,” there honestly isn’t a lot of romance in Close of Play. Nor much comedy. What we get instead are tremendous amounts of pages, whole chapters, even, devoted to cricket. To be fair, the story takes place in England. Yet I no more want to read that much about cricket than I do about golf. Or baseball. Not if I’m reading a romance. In the story we learn all about the guys on the hero’s team, their nicknames, how they got them, their positions in the game, how they perform, the hero’s batting stats, their after-game celebrations at the pub. Sounds as if the readership might be guys, right? But I’ll be honest, the hero isn’t really a “man’s man.” He’s fussy about his dress (on his first date with the heroine he even frets over what to wear), and mentions that he trims his nasal hairs. Um, PJ? We don’t actually need to know this. Some secrets should remain just that.
The hero is also only 44-years-old but acts as if he’s 75. He’s goes off on tangents about young people’s lack of manners and lack of morals. Can guys relate? Some of them, maybe. Retirees in Florida, perhaps. But as I mentioned earlier, the focus of this “romance” isn’t romance. The hero spends quite a bit of introspective time reflecting on life’s purpose and his own feelings of melancholy (not exactly what I’d label laugh-out-loud comedy), but we never really get to know why. As the hero notes toward the beginning of the book, “Chaps don’t talk about feelings; at least, not innermost feelings – only those that don’t matter.”And that may be Close of Play’s biggest problem of all.
I applaud Mr. Whiteley for taking a crack at writing romance. And, to be fair, there were parts of the book that were enjoyable. But we women read romance for the romance. For the initial rush of physical attraction, for the development of feelings, for the heady adventure of falling in love. Romances aimed at women are primarily in the heroine’s POV because we readers inserts ourselves in her place. Yet unlike real life, romances also give us the inside scoop on the guy’s perspective. We want chapters from his POV as well because we want to know what he’s thinking about us just as much as we’re thinking about him. I’d love to see more romances written by guys and get an upclose peek at the male mind. Just not when he’s thinking about cricket.