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Archive for Sunday, June 8, 2008

Review: Checking men’s fidelity leads to trouble in debut novel

June 8, 2008

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At first, "The Fidelity Files" (St. Martin's, $13.95) reads like a feel-good story for women who think men are scum.

We meet Jennifer Hunter, 28, who makes a lot of money by seducing men. Why? She's a self-styled "fidelity inspector," hired by wives or girlfriends to see if their guys are susceptible to cheating.

Hunter stacks the deck. She gathers information on her targets and transforms herself into the object of their fantasies - a flight attendant, a bored executive on the road, a sorority girl, whatever. She meets her unwary targets casually and pushes every erotic button they have, using her extensive experience and remarkable ability to read their lustful little minds.

She's in control. She flirts, she gives them a chance to subtly remove their wedding rings, and finally she shows just enough resistance to indicate she's not cheap. For the guy, it all goes great until he commits to having sex.

Then she transforms into the avenging angle of wronged women. She coldly tells her befuddled target that it was a test, and he just flunked. And her targets usually flunk.

Hunter seems like an unstoppable superhero, complete with a noble back story (at age 12, she'd found her father messing around with her baby sitter). And her disdain for her prey is clear. After every assignment, she gets her luggage disinfected.

You go, girl!

But then things get complicated, and Hunter becomes mortal.

Living from role to role, she feels like she's losing her real identity. She blows up at her friends, whom she's kept in the dark about her job. And in one sudden outburst she stuns her innocent, adolescent niece by suggesting the girl's dreamy boyfriend is probably, um, a particular body orifice "like every other man on this planet." Oops.

Hunter also falls for the man of her dreams, only to find he has more baggage than the stuff he packed for their trip to Paris. And one of her earlier targets devises a particularly effective way of getting back at her.

It's an absorbing story and fun to read (even for guys). Too bad first-time novelist Jessica Brody is prone to overwriting at times. Hunter's interior monologues can go on interminably. As she sits down for a crucial meeting with another character, we really don't need a half-page digression on how she had to use pencils rather than pens in grade school.

The book's publisher says Brody is working on developing a TV show from this book. That show could be fun. But let's hope the heroine saves her most ponderous thinking for the commercial breaks.

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