Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie

The man behind the cluttered desk looked like the devil, and Nell Dysart figured that was par for her course since she'd been going to hell for a year and a half anyway. Meeting Gabriel McKenna just meant she'd arrived. ~ Opening to Fast Women

Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie
St. Martin's Press, 2001
Fiction (Romance); 496 pgs

From the Publisher:  
Nell Dysart's in trouble.Weighed down by an inexplicable divorce and a loss of appetite for everything, Nell is sleepwalking through life until her best friend finagles a job for her with a shabby little detective agency that has lots of potential and a boss who looks easy to manage.Gabe McKenna isn't doing too well, either. His detective agency is wasting time on a blackmail case, his partner has decided he hates watching cheating spouses for money, and his ex-wife has just dumped him . . . again. The only thing that is going his way is that his new secretary looks efficient, boring, and biddable. But looks can be deceiving, and soon Nell and Gabe are squaring off over embezzlement, business cards, vandalism, dog-napping, blackmail, Chinese food, unprofessional sex, and really ugly office furniture, all of which turn out to be the least of their problems. Because shortly after that, somebody starts killing people. And shortly after that, they start falling in love.
One of my unofficial goals this year is to take part in more of the group reads in one of my online book groups, On the Porch Swing.  The group often has interesting and lively discussions, and I wanted to be a part of that this year.  To begin the year, January's pick was Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie.  I have never read anything by this author before, although I have heard of her.  She's a favorite in many circles.

I did not really know what to expect when I began reading Fast Women.  When I hear Jennifer Crusie's name, I automatically think romance, and in this book, there was plenty of that.  The mystery, however, often takes center stage in the novel, which makes it more my kind of story.

While Gabe and Nell are the main protagonists, there are other characters who have strong story lines throughout the novel, including Gabe's partner Riley and Nell's best friends (and sisters-in-law), Suze and Margie.  

Betrayal, loss, women coming into their own, redefining who they are later in life, and finding love after having been betrayed are themes that each of the women in the novel share.  I really appreciated the depth the author went into in fleshing out her characters, even the more minor ones, and their motivations.  The growth of the more major characters over the course of the novel was also well done, including the self reflection and re-assessment of their situations.  By the end of the novel, it's easy to see why certain things happened the way they did, even if bad decisions were made.  In terms of the relationships gone sour, I mean.

In terms of the mystery, well, I liked how the author built up to the climax.  It was a slow build, built around the characters and their personal drama, but the more events came to light, the more complex and slippery the mystery became.  Like the relationships in this book, the mystery itself is one big tangle.  Until its not.  I appreciated the internal struggle Gabe was going through, concerned his father may have been involved in or had covered up the murder of the wife of his father's long time friend. It really would be difficult to be in that situation.  Like Gabe, I would want to know the truth, to hope to clear my father's name.  

I liked the characters alright.  I wanted to like them more.  My first thought was that perhaps it has to do with the fact that I cannot really relate to what they are going through in their personal lives, dealing with marital affairs and divorce, but other authors have been able to draw me and help me relate without any trouble. So, it can't be that. I think part of it was the fact that so much was going on in the novel, as well as my just not really connecting with any of the characters.

Even so, I really felt for Nell.  She had worked hard her entire life, helping her husband establish his insurance business, basically running it for him, raising their son, and then all of that disappeared out from under her when her husband left her for another woman.  It made me angry and sad.  One of my favorite scenes in the novel is when Nell finally lets loose and lets her ex know how she really feels about his actions.

Of the characters though, my favorite would have to be Gabe.  He was a good person and there was nothing about him that was manipulative or shifty or dishonest.  He could be clueless at times, but he admitted when he was wrong (mostly).

One of the aspects of the novel I appreciated too was the juxtaposition of the young and the old(er). Although Nell's son and Gabe's daughter were not focused on often in the novel, they were enough of a presence to get a feel for the differences and similarities between new and more established romantic relationships.

There is also the relationship between the women.  Their friendship was quite strong and I thought it was wonderful how they supported each other, how they banded together when one of them needed help, whether it be stealing a dog or working through a divorce.  I'm always a little envious of relationships like that.  I don't really have any close women friends like that.  While I liked Nell, I never warmed completely to Suze and I just felt sorry for Margie.  Both women were dealing with their own issues.  Suze was that other woman who had broken up a marriage, married the guy, and was now unhappy.  Margie's husband disappeared fifteen years before and she was living with another man who wanted her to marry him, but Margie wasn't willing to commit.

Fast Women is a wonderful book for a book discussion, which I hadn't expected when I first started reading it.  I think many of us who have been married for many years can relate to how hard marriage can be sometimes, how many compromises we have to make in life in general once we have families, and how we change and evolve over time.

For all the seriousness of the issues covered in this novel, what made it especially enjoyable for me was the humor.  There were comical scenes and witty dialogue throughout.  And you can't forget the mystery aspect: murder, secrets, and good china.

I am glad I read this book.  Had it not been for my book group, I would not have, and I would have missed out in a good book.  Even despite it's flaws, I still liked it.

Rating: * (Good +)

You can learn more about Jennifer Crusie and her books on the author's website

Source: I purchased an e-copy of this book.

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. I've always passed up on her books probably because I think of them as strictly romance. When I do read an occasional romance novel, it's usually a historical. Sounds like I'm missing out! And, I wouldn't have expected a mystery in it either! Great review, Wendy. I am going to have to add this author to my list!

    1. Iliana - Same here. Now I know better. LOL I do want to check out some of her other books and see if they interest me.

  2. This sounds like a good one. I like that there's humor in the mix. And good for Nell on telling him off. Nice review post!

    1. Naida - I think the humor really added to the story. Jennifer Crusie is a very witty author! I really liked that scene when she told him off. I know it's a bit spoiler-y to even mention it, but it's really a scene you have to read to get the full effect anyway.

  3. I have a few of this author's books on my shelves but still haven't tried her yet. Shame on me! This sounds like a fun read and you've motivated me to actually pull one of her books off of my shelves and read it! Great review :)

    1. Samantha - I am really glad I decided to read it even despite my reservations. Now I know why the author is so popular. You'll have to let me know what you read by her and if you recommend it!

  4. It's Crusie's sense of humor that I like best. It's always recognizable in her books. Glad your group found a lot to discuss.

    1. Stacy - I think her sense of humor shines through in this one. I definitely have to check out something else by her.


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