Monday, April 18, 2011

Fate Takes a Hand--1995

We had to shoot a pack mule.
The Founding Bettys, donning their tasteful Pith helmets and explorer monocles, ventured forth and were lucky enough to get their hands on the original Betty Neels novel outline!  (We traded one demon baby, our pinky fingers and three gold fillings for what you're about to read.)

Working title: The Doctor and the Hot Flower Girl (Call agent and demand Harlequin stop slapping my novels with bland and taupe-y titles!)

Heroine: Emily Haven't I done that already?  Eulalia Warburton(To sound more au courant they can call her Miss Lally...There, publishers, I'm throwing crumbs to your hip-hop generation.)
Debits: Limp  Squint  Evil brother  Homelessness, Elderly retainer (I'll call her Trottie!), Care of orphaned cousin (Precocious but not treacle-y 8-year-old...Bobby (too American!) Peter)
Assets: Built like a brick-house, loads of money,  loads of family, marketable skill-set, arranges flowers, willingness to work, spine like honed steel

Hero: Brian Churchill (No.  Eureka!  I have it!  This time he's Dutch.) Fenno van Linssen
Debits: Short,  Skinny,  Bad Career (He's a junior executive at a greetings card firm...), Small-minded and bony-chested fiancee (Sarah (Much too nice-sounding. I want something that says, 'I lop the tops off daffodils in the springtime because they look happy.') Ursula)
Assets: Deeply romantic nature, enduring honesty, willingness to lie like a trooper, a libido, likes children, has cash
Eulalia, flower shop girl by day,
Goddess of Spring by night

Set-Up: Simple (and plain gorgeous) flower shop worker struggles to maintain financial solvency while lashed to the rocks, waiting for the Kraken to devour her.  (Ha!  I kill me.) Trottie is a pensioner, fruit of misspent youth cousin Peter is an orphan and Eulalia has a sweaty-handed gentleman follower a lease that's about to expire.  What next?!  Fenno walks into the shop and asks for flowers--red roses definitely not red roses for his fiancee.  Sparks fly (figure out a way to imply that he's looking at her body without being tacky enough to say 'body') and a palpable attraction is beaten into submission by her irritation at his coldness and his gobsmacked shock (which reads as coldness) at finding Persephone working in retail.

Conflict: When Eulalia delivers the flowers to Ursula (I'm thinking of an anorexic version of that hard-eyed villainess in the Disney picture...but less smiley and more willing to slap the parlor maids.) a minor row ensues.  Fenno visits the shop again and again (he's never said it with flowers before) so that he can observe her artfully (Too explicit?). Eulalia twits him about what a fractious man he must be to need so many flowers and never guesses that his motives are inclining to wickedness.  Peter contracts loprosy  runs away gets a broken arm (caught in a protest rowdy curb-hopping bikers) and so needs a doctor.  Fenno!  He goes above and beyond the call of duty, making house-calls, having them over for tea..And it all works very well until Ursula (receiving yet another unwanted flower offering from Fenno via Eulalia) screeches out that (well, how do I put it?)...Fenno has been picking flowers in Eulalia's garden.  (Oh dear, we'll have to tone that down for publication. It's a mite smutty.)  So, Eulalia tells her where to get off.
50,000 Pounds!

Beam-Ends: Eulalia gets a promotion and a medal fired.  Fenno, nursing a terrific sense of guilt (and passion--but tastefully!), throws Ursula over and proposes a MOC to our heroine buys her a house!  (Note to self: Remind my publishers of my substantial fan base and remind them, too, that this isn't the part where the RDD buys himself a mistress. Leave that to the Harlequin Blaze stable of tarty writers...)

Beam-Ends x2: Eulalia entrenches herself happily in her home town, swallowing the solicitor's lie about a deceased great-uncle and the one thousand ten thousand fifty thousand pounds!  She gets a rabbit and a cat for Peter and plans a flower shop with cautious optimism.
But all is not well in Eden.  Victor, a local lad lately returned from the outer reaches of hell America, tries his arm with the fair heiress.  Trottie breaks her leg.  Fenno fixes both Trottie's leg and Victor's wagon. 

Muddy Waters: Eulalia meets a hooded stranger named Deep Throat in a parking garage overhears the village drunk mention a Bentley-driving stranger. Eulalia, having obtained five A-levels in her salad days, is no fool and quickly tracks down the kernel of brandy-soaked truth at the bottom of the barrel.  She travels to London and lays her case before Fenno.  He bought her a house!  Are there quid pro quos? (Too tarty?)  Fenno, sure he loves the fair maiden, offers her a proposal contingent on his getting out of an entanglement with Ursula (page count!) shakes it off, dismisses her fury and makes her spend the night.  (Be sure to mention chaperones.)  

He sends your girl flowers, you send his diamonds. 
He buys your girl a house, you get his in a clinch. 
THAT'S the Chicago way!
Notes: Trottie won't have a home if Lally gets married so develop a secondary romance for her with Dodge, Fenno's accountant butler.  Also, clear up the mess with Ursula--have Fenno catch her in the arms of a demon from the darkest corners of the underworld an American...from Chicago!

Filler: Fenno invites Peter to Holland where Eulalia meets his evil and insecure aunt delightful mother and gets the Indoor/Outdoor House Tour of Anticipatory/Implied Conjugal Relations.  Her humiliation over finding out she owes him her home and 50,000 Pounds is not to be mentioned.   

Resolution: Home once more.  Fenno waits until Dodge takes Trottie off for a spot of snogging the day and then makes a short (if to the point) declaration of undying love. He promises to install Eulalia in an upscale London condo with open duct work and an industrial finish his garden oasis in the city, serve her several Cordon Bleu meals a day and await pledges of her affection.
Page Count Neither Exceeded or Skimped: The End

Rating:  The biggest issue I take with this book are the names.  Miss Lally (which I kept intentionally mis-reading as LAY-lee instead of LAL-lee so that it wouldn't seem quite so bad) and Trottie (which any way you slice it sounds like a mix-breed Labrador with a case of the runs) are difficult pills to swallow.  Still, they're just names and I found the rest of the book really charming.  Though written in the last few years of her career, La Neels hardly seems like she's flagging (would that I could be a tenth as awesome). 
This is a Boeuf en Croute or maybe even higher--I read this when my husband was out of town and it's all I can do in those circumstances to keep the kids from sharpening sticks and circling helpless neighbors with tribal cries of 'Kill the Pig!' Anyway, just when I'd get going on the book I'd be interrupted with all manner of Lilliputian catastrophes. ( I know it's a great book when I'm more than usually annoyed that I have to put it down and know it's a Beans on Toast if I'd rather deep clean the oven than pick it up.)
But in blue...
I loved the secondary love story, adored Peter and wanted to pop Ursula in the nose myself even though, as it turned out, she had every reason to be suspicious about Fenno and that gorgeous flower girl.

Food: Banana sandwiches and Marmite and orange squash are her meals with Peter.  Trottie doesn't trust fish on Mondays.  They make cheese sandwiches, Madeira cake, and when Fenno does his spot of Good Samaritanism he has a ploughman's lunch of bread cheese and beer.  More refined meals include lobster bisque, chocolate pudding, and chicken a la king.  Adorably, Trottie and Dodge court while making cucumber sandwiches and scones.

Fashion: She wears a navy dress in the flower shop.  Fenno changes from country tweeds to sober grey suiting after popping out to the country to BUY A HOUSE.  Eulalia owns a small-brimmed velvet hat and Ursula unwisely dons a bright blue dress cut very low 'which was a mistake, for her figure was what she described as boyish and the dress did nothing for her flat chest.'  Cough.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    I really liked this one. Except for the names! Oh please, dear Betty, why did you go with all those unsuitable names in your waning years? Anywho--This is at least the second Eulalie and the umpteenth variation on Trot (one of whom, if I remember correctly, was a cat!).
    I just giggled happily with Fenno acting so much the 'fairy Godfather'--he so enjoyed being "The Hand of Fate".
    And I really liked the secondary romance, not something that the Betty often did. Dodge was awesome.
    Of course Ursula was a classic Neels Veronica--don't know why Fenno didn't dump her sooner. (Actually, don't know why he even got hooked up with her to start with--her acting skills must have been awesome in order to snag him.)
    Boeuf en Croute seems just about right.

  2. About the fish- I have heard that you shouldn't get fish on Mondays too. The reasoning being that they don't get shipments over the weekend so on Monday they are trying to get rid of the weekend's left overs. Eeew.

  3. I can't say I took to this one. I kept thinking of ways Eulalia (sounds like a town in Mississippi) could have reacted to the realization that Fenno has bought her a house.

    Personally, I think she should have flipped it. You know, she added the mod. cons., staged it with fresh paint, curtains, and her nice furniture. And the deed's in her name, so nothing's stopping her from selling it at a vast profit, giving Fenno back his original purchase price plus the £56,000 and I'll bet she still has £25,000+ to hold onto.

    But that would have been fairly proactive for Eulalia and she just wasn't that girl. In fact, there wasn't a lot of personality there at all. She had three modes: normally bland, annoyed to the point of rudeness, and gratitude tinged with apology.

    Not much more than Treacle Tart for me, I'm afraid. That's for the book. The review is Lashings of Whipped Cream!

    P.S. And did y'all notice when Dodge and Trottie spend the night together unchaperoned? I was shocked. Well, okay, not really. But sort of.

  4. Betty Barbara here-
    Betty Magdalen--yes!!I noticed that!, but I didn't want to mention it for fear of raising a blush in the cheeks of fellow Bettys.
    And, you have been watching too much HGTV to imagine Eulalie and the "Flip This House" scenario! But that still would have left her looking for lodgings for Trottie, Peter and herself.

  5. I thought that E and F just weren't together enough and that there weren't enough misunderstandings/dramatic incidents.

    Compare The Moon for Lavinia . . .

  6. And I wondered on stylistic grounds who had in fact written it . . .

  7. Adored Fenno and Peter, wanted to smack Eulalia a number of times. Boyfriend's good enough to make sure you have a place to live and something to live on and you get all "Waah! How dare you?" instead of reading it as "He must REALLY love me!" (or at least see it as affection instead of turning him into a sugar daddy in your imagination. Whatever.)

    Ursula was so obviously over -- you don't keep ditching your betrothed like that if you were going to go the distance, IMHO.

    Tout de même, it was a pleasant way to spend the evening. BTW, I'm trying to remember which book it was that the RDD/RED took his beloved to his former nanny for protection, etc. Said nanny was also named "Trotty". Perhaps, Steed and Mrs. Peel need to look into this obviously nefarious conspiracy of Nannies who all have the same name ... I'm sure Nanny Goat is behind it all! :)

  8. The only other Trotts I've recorded are the greyhound, Trotter, in A Good Wife, the cat Mrs. Trot in Roses for Christmas, the lodge-keeper Trott in Grasp a Nettle, the gardener Old Trott in Hilltop Tryst and the golden lab Trotter in Roses Have Thorns.

    Ooo, ooo! Maybe you're thinking of Only By Chance, where Henrietta gets her first-ever holiday, with first-ever glimpse of the sea, courtesy of Adam's former nanny. Betty Anonymous will look up Nanny's name for us.

    1. Never mind, I've done it myself. Adam's former nanny is Matty. Is that close enough to Trotty for you?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Waiting for Deborah

      Trotty was on one side of the bed and Sir James on the other. They were both looking at her, one with the brisk regard of a dyed-in-the-wool nanny intent on restoring her charge to a state of cleanliness and comfort, the other with a look of ...

  9. That's it! "Waiting for Deborah" was the one I was thinking of! Thank you!

  10. Shocked at 56,000 pounds!!! Fairy God mother indeed.Loved their interactions. Especially because she was so sassy!

  11. I once hear Keira Knightley explain that for I think Pirates of the Caribbean they painted cleavage on her with brown make-up (she is very thin) and you can see the same here!!!!

  12. I rather enjoyed this one. I do wish someone would buy me a 56,000 pound house! You would need grappling hooks to get me out of it!

  13. A few random thoughts about this book:

    I agree that the title is pretty bad. “Fate Takes a Hand” on a medical-themed book made me think about amputations. More than one RDD/RBD has had to lop off someone’s limb to get to his HEA.

    “The Doctor and the Hot Flower Girl” implies an age gap that even Betty wouldn’t approve of (see the cover of “Wedding Bells for Beatrice”.) “The Doctor and the Hot Florist”, “Say it with Flowers”, or “Ursula Knows her Foes” would tell me immediately which book this is.

    A child suffers serious injuries in a hit and run and there’s no police investigation? Mrs. Trusk leaves boxes all over her shop and there’s no ambulance-chaser waiting to help Trottie file a law suit? Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

    Betty doubled down with her “nothing good ever came from America” stance. Evil Victor and his snide sister were just back from America. Ursula’s boring friends were American, and Ursula’s “other man” is-gasp!-from Chicago, which just happens to be in America!

    I liked the Dodge and Trottie love story. Was Fenno the only RDD who played match-maker and went to the pub with his FFR?

    Overall a pleasant read. Lally was a bit snippy for my taste, but what’s a girl to think when an engaged man gives her $56,000 pounds (how very specific, Betty) and a cottage? Not to mention a few random but very enjoyable kisses. Very entertaining review.

  14. That should have been “Don’t Say it with Flowers.”

  15. Lol, Betty Meredith!

    B. Baersma

  16. Dodge and Trottie love story - how sweet it was!!! (the only one in Neelsdom?)