The title: Sweet Talking Man
The authors: Bettina Krahn
Publication: Bantam, 2000
Got it from: Library booksale, 2009
New York, 1892: the story opens with two seventeen-year-old lovers at a clandestine meeting, upset at the girl's aunt for "not understanding" their puppy love.
Priscilla: "She's so old and lonely and miserable - she must be thirty years old."
Oh, to be seventeen again.
"She" refers to Beatrice von Furstenberg (not to be confused with Diane von Furstenberg), the widow of a wealthy businessman who has taken the reigns of her dead husband's company. She's also a suffragist, which is why this book is made of awesome.
Prissy and Jeffrey, the two gag-worthy lovebirds, know that Aunt Beatrice won't approve of their love, so they hatch a plot whereby they will hire some men to kidnap Beatrice so Jeffrey can save her and she will be ever so grateful and approving of him. To do this, Jeffrey asks his black-sheep cousin, attorney Connor Barrow, an Irishman who has connections to the Irish mob and is running for congress, where he can find two lowlifes.
This cannot possibly go wrong in any way, amiright?
As the two dimwitted Irish thugs, Dipper and Shorty (I love Dipper and Shorty!) proceed with the plan, they realize something has gone awry - namely, Jeffrey has been forced to stay home by his mother and can't come to Beatrice's rescue. So they hide her in the one place nobody will look for her - a brothel. Naturally, baby Jeffrey doesn't have a clue where to find her and has to ask cousin Connor to get her out. Wearing nothing but a corset and brandishing the only thing she can find - a whip - Beatrice encounters Connor for the first time. She is rightly furious, and when she discovers Connor's hand in the whole thing she blackmails him into publicly supporting women's suffrage. You go, girl.
Ordinarily, I find the businesswoman angle doesn't work in romance novels. Usually things work out just peachy for the heroine, and she rides through the story on a cloud of rainbows and sunshine. Not so here. This book exposes the realities of being a 19th century woman in business, and it sucks. Beatrice's hold on her company is tenuous, and there is a harrowing scene where the board members vote whether to keep her on as president. There is also some great stuff here about the prejudice and derision faced by suffragists, and their struggle to gain even the most basic of rights for women. One of the major plot points is the difficulty faced by women in obtaining a bank account without a man's consent, something the heroine tries to change over the course of the story.
I really, really enjoyed this book. A few years ago I reviewed one of the author's other novels, The Book of Seven Delights, and I thought it was fun but really silly. Sweet Talking Man had so much more depth to it. I liked the love story, but what I really loved was the character of Beatrice. I love how she takes charge in a man's world, I love how she stands up for injustice toward women, I love how she doesn't stop passionately advocating for the things she believes in even after she falls in love. One hundred and twenty years later, there are still women who could learn a lot from her about not relying on a man for everything.