Book Review

An Unlikely Setup by Margaret Watson


Title: An Unlikely Setup
Author: Margaret Watson
Publication Info: Harlequin 2010
ISBN: 978-0373716081
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book CoverSometimes, a romance is like a souffle. It’s all delicate and airy: there’s some fat and egg white for structure, and it’s sweet and light, and it can be satisfying, if not the most rib-sticking, satisfying thing you’ve ever eaten. But sometimes, because it’s a souffle, one little thing will break it, and the whole puffy thing that until that moment was fun and simple and pleasing will collapse while you stare in horror because there is NO WAY THAT JUST HAPPENED.

An Unlikely Setup was following the path of one of my new favorite forms of category romance plot: girl returns to small rural town and finds community, home, and a really hot guy with a supremely excellent bum. Hot Bum is Quinn, who runs the local pub, and returning girl is Maddie, who has recently inherited the local pub building and a house from her godfather. She’s in deep financial trouble after losing her job as a reporter because she thought flipping houses would work as a way to earn money quickly – even borrowing money from her best friend’s IRA – and when the bottom fell out of the housing market, she found herself way, WAY under water.

I must say, financial idiocy is not admirable in a heroine, but I sort of admire the risk that the author took, because Maddie is fully cognizant of the fact that she has fucked up and is on the cusp of fucking up even more. She’s been dumb, but is still somewhat sharp, and hasn’t let her own idiocy get her down.

She returns to Otter Tail (yes, that is the name of the town. Yes, I giggled and made lots of “nice tail!” jokes in my head) to sell the house and the pub, and finds out that her godfather had promised to leave the pub to Quinn, who was a close friend of his, but neglected to change his will in time. Maddie needs cash, and lots of it, for the sale of one or both, but when she finds she likes Otter Tail and wants to stay, she has to get more for the pub than Quinn is offering so that she can keep the house.

Meanwhile, she’s working at the pub to help earn off the costs of repairs to the pub to get it ready for sale or something – I lost track of the explanation but the upshot is that Maddie’s working for Quinn but she owns the building the business is in. Owner/tenant vs. boss/employee with the added benefit of an Irish pub and building Guinness. The situation places her in daily proximity of most of the town – of course there is only one pub! It’s Otter Tail for God’s sake! – and sure enough, folks like her, and want her to stay, and want her to sell to Quinn. Trouble looms in the form of a corporate agent from a large conglomerate superstore that is desperate to open a store in that county (think WalMart) and waving the promise of many, many dollars in front of Maddie, even though bringing the NotWalMart store to town will pretty much destroy everything she likes about it, and screw up many of her new friends’ lives.

Seriously, all this conflict stacked up fine for me, and I was going along for the ride with no problems. Quinn is too chest-thumpy at times, and Maddie is very sharp – so sharp I wonder how she found herself making the decision to flip houses after not nearly enough character exposition that would reveal WHY she’d think that was a solid time and financial investment. The dialogue, particularly Maddie’s smart mouth, is cheeky and fun. The ancillary characters are distinct, and some seem like very ripe sequel bait, while others are potential nemeses of the protagonists for one reason or another. The writing is solid and at times clever. Gatherings at the bar, which are nightly, make for interesting chapters, and even if I lose patience with Quinn and Maddie and their inconsistencies, the rest of the community provide entertaining reading.

Then: whoomp, there it was. More than one person has made vague or specific threats against Maddie and Quinn in the course of the story, and one night, after an evening of working at the bar and exchanging flirtatious, heated comments despite the issue of the sale and the boss/employee thing and the person who left her the property but meant the world to both of them hanging over both their flirty, goofy heads, Quinn drives Maddie home.

Maddie notices the porch light isn’t on. She left it on.

Quinn, a former cop, gets extra more chest poundy and they check it out… someone has busted the porch light and scrawled “BITCH” on the porch floor. A moment later, they see tail lights driving away in a real hurry from the woods adjacent to her home.

So: if you were in this situation would you:

1. Leave.
2. Find somewhere else to stay that night.
3. Call the actual police and not just the former police officer currently standing next to you.
4. Go inside, have a glass of wine, take a walk on the beach next to the house, make out on the beach next to the house, get to sca-rumpin’ on the sand all turned on because someone might be watching… while REMARKING that there’s NO WAY the person who defaced the porch could still be around because they saw him drive away.

Right. 1, 2, or 3, or all of the above, maybe. But 4? 4 is what made the souffle go PFFT and my jaw go WHAAA and my eyes go HURRR and my entire brain go NUH UH NUH UH NUH UH. Then my mouth went, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” I expected Quinn to say, “Don’t worry, this is a Harlequin Superromance, not an Intrigue – we’re in no danger going full moon under the full moon!”

Seriously, I’m so irritated. I was perfectly happy enjoying a light and somewhat friendly read, hoping to see the potential of the future relationships that were possible in the community members, enjoying the talent that created distinct characters with a handful of lines and scenes…and then the hero and heroine have to do something so boneheaded I want to scrawl words across their porches, and by “porches” I mean “foreheads.”

The setup of the romance wasn’t so unlikely, really. It’s not as if Maddie’s godfather left her the property contingent upon the fact that she marry the sherriff and lose her virginity on the night of the crescent moon while wearing a red halter top. The setup was somewhat normal, even daring, given that the heroine is aware and straightforward about the fact that due to her own mistakes she’s in deep financial trouble that’s about to get a lot worse.

What was unlikely was the nookie, and the idea that they’d go get sand in intimate places on the night of a full moon (full moon! Ha!) after someone defaced a home that means a lot to both of them, that belonged to someone whom they are both grieving for, is just freaking looney, barking mad. I was grieving for their intelligence as I finished the book, and regardless of the resolution, remain frustrated that someone tossed a baseball made of boneheads into a perfectly nice souffle.

An Unlikely Setup is available from,, Book Depository and Powells.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Frankly, I’m surprised you finished the book. That’s just the sort of situation that would pull me right out of the story.

  2. 2
    HeatherK says:

    Sounds like a definite WTF were they thinking—oh wait, they WEREN’T thinking—moment. I don’t think I could have finished it either without just skimming for dialogue to see how it ended. Yes, I have done that on more than one occasion because it drives me crazy not to at least know how it ties up. Sounds like the title fits it perfectly, though it did sound like a good story up until the WTF moment.

  3. 3
    Ros says:

    I just get irritated that whenever I go back to the small rural community I grew up in, there are no supremely hot guys with really excellent bums at all.  Where am I going wrong?

  4. 4
    Annmarie says:

    Nothing gets me hotter that finding ‘BITCH’ scrawled on my door.  Just thinking about that scenario has me shucking my clothes and running outside in the sub zero temperatures looking for sex. 

    *rolls eyes*

    Yeah.  That would have ruined the book for me too.

  5. 5
    kelly says:

    I had this book in my cart, thanks for the review.

  6. 6
    Lori says:

    Why is it that in fiction the reaction to grief or stress is always horniness? That’s a cliche that probably needs to be retired, or at least sent on a nice long vacation.

  7. 7
    DianeN says:

    At least the title lived up to the storyline—An Unlikely Setup indeed!!

  8. 8
    Lindleepw says:

    The fact that they were getting it on on a beach would have pulled me out of the story first. I know having sex on a beach is supposed to be romantic but that pulls me out of a story faster than anything else. As someone who’s vacationed on the beach every summer, every time I read a beach sex scene all I can think is “No, no, no! Don’t do it! You’ll get sand in places you don’t want sand!” I’ve never had sex on a beach but I know you get sand EVERYWHERE just by sitting on the beach. So…I don’t find it romantic. At all.

  9. 9
    Chicklet says:

    Why is it that in fiction the reaction to grief or stress is always horniness? That’s a cliche that probably needs to be retired, or at least sent on a nice long vacation.

    Damned skippy, Lori!

  10. 10

    Thirty pages is one thing. Two paragraphs is something else.

    I am hoping that readers don’t become so drama oriented that word choice and true artistry of scene go by the wayside.

    After all, the greatest writers the world has ever seen didn’t get it done on the first page.

  11. 11
    Scrin says:


    I know the feeling of having something spoiled.

    There’s a fantasy book I read once. The hero was just plain and simple trying to get revenge on five men who’d almost killed him once, a long time ago. Ruined his life, left him outcast…one of them even punctured his voicebox to ruin his voice. He can speak, but it sounds hideous.

    It had all the elements to be really, really awesome. There’s a romantic subplot which is cool. It would have been cool if it hadn’t become the main plot (author was a lot better at the asskicking and not so much at the romantic dialogue); it could have been sequel bait, giving the hero something to live for once all asses had been kicked.

    Then a couple of moments of idiocy wreck what was going on and the author cheats out of writing a sequel by having the hero die unnecessarily and in the most idiotic way possible.

    I can’t read the book again because now I only see what COULD have been.

  12. 12
    Cat S. says:


    Was at BN yesterday perusing the offerings.  Paged through a few books, including one (and I cannot remember the title or the author’s name for the life of me) about a woman who would only unlock her powers if she had sex w/ 5 demon guys.  Singly and in various combinations.  OK, I was thinking, not really my thing.  And then I read something that made me think:


    What I read was that while one female orifice was occupied by the male demon’s manhood, another adjacent orifice was being entered by the demon’s tail!


    I shoved the book back on the shelf and leaped back like I’d been burned. Fortunately after that, I located a most excellent Silhouette Nocturne by Doranna Durgin called Sentinels: Wolf Hunt.  It was everything the aforementioned book was not, and I highly recommend it.

  13. 13
    GoShawdy! says:

    To me “Super Romance” Yellow Banner = Bland Story Where Nothing Happens. Avoid at all costs. They read like Hallmark Channel Original Movies. The leading characters have all the sex drive of Ken and Barbie!

    By the way, the male character’s name is Quinn? Are you sure he doesn’t have a timer and three friends traveling with him?

  14. 14
    Henofthewoods says:

    Does anyone actually know a human named Quinn? Or Cole?

  15. 15
    diremommy says:

    I know a couple of Coles.

    Should I be ashamed that I kinda want to know the name of the book with the 5 demons sex? Something that bizarre sounds like something that could give good laughs.

  16. 16
    Ego Scribo says:

    Henofthewoods, if you don’t know a Cole now, you will soon; it’s one of those popular baby names. I think Quinn is actually trending as a girl’s name though!

    Reading Our Charming Hostess’s account of the wrenchingly inappropriate sex scene, it seems to me that this is the evil done by straitjacketing a story into a genre. The story was rattling along reasonably well, but the pressure of genre forced the protagonists to behave irrationally, rather than continue a trajectory of becoming better acquainted, dealing with the threat in a realistic way, and possibly even end the book with no immediate romantic or sexual payoff at all.

    But is it still a romance, and still workable (and publishable) in genre, if the sexual tension isn’t resolved? If the main characters behave too much in character, or with too much rational depth as the non-fictional world we live in requires, and end the book as good friends or business partners, with only perhaps a possibility of romantic (and sexual) action in the future, or a hint that it’s about to take place, is that still a romance? Will the reader feel cheated? I can imagine the author thinking she had to put that gritty sex scene in, because otherwise it wouldn’t sell, or just putting it in because she knows instinctually that it’s not going to work for the readers if there is no sex.

    I ask this because when I read category or genre romance, very often the sex scenes (and much of the courtship) feels crowbarred in. I’m going along with the characters’ motivations and tribulations (improbable though many of them are), accepting information and buying in to points of view, and the characters let me down with their unaccountable or ill-supported lust. It doesn’t agree with what I have experienced of human nature, and no matter what good there may be in the story, I can no longer suspend disbelief and enjoy it.

  17. 17
    Jennifer says:

    “I just get irritated that whenever I go back to the small rural community I grew up in, there are no supremely hot guys with really excellent bums at all.”

    Oh yeah, but also, every single small town guy is MARRIED. Not a single guy is in existence, even the gross guys from high school.

  18. 18
    Kalen Hughes says:

    They read like Hallmark Channel Original Movies.

    I’ve always assumed that category romance is what they option to make those films . . .

  19. 19
    StephS says:

    Does anyone actually know a human named Quinn? Or Cole?

    Yup.  The manager of our local Kroger supermarket was named Quinn.  Handsome older man, then he retired.  Sort of killed the “sexy name” vibe for me though.  :-)

  20. 20
    ocelott says:

    I went to high school with a Quinn.  Smart, funny guy.  Half the girls in school had a crush on him.

  21. 21
    Danielle (no, not that Danielle, the other one) says:

    Given how fitting the title apparently is, I’m wondering if HQ has some kind of new “truth in advertising” thing going. If so, what’s next: The Hero is an Asshat? Anachronistic Adventures of a Historical Heroine?

  22. 22
    HeatherK says:

    I went to school with a Quinton, which is close to Quinn, but he was a total loser. Was dating a friend and had the nerve to ask me out while her back was turned—as in, she was just a few feet away at the time. Yeah, definitely interested in a guy that underhanded—NOT! I avoided him every chance I got after that.

    And an ex-boyfriend was named Cole.

  23. 23

    To me “Super Romance” Yellow Banner = Bland Story Where Nothing Happens. Avoid at all costs.

    Aww, c’mon now…everyone knows the authors don’t have control over the art department. Please don’t judge simply on that alone. Not every book in the line is plain white bread. There are some really good ones out there. Helen Brenna won a RITA for her Superromance TREASURE as did Janice Kay Johnson for SNOWBOUND. And, of course, there’s mine, too. I haven’t won a RITA but I think they’re not half bad. :-) KIDS ON THE DOORSTEP got a pretty good grade over at AAR and the love scenes were pretty warm!

  24. 24
    OdetteLovegood says:

    There was a guy named Quinn in 4th and 5th grade with me. He was pretty cute, by elementary school girl standards. I’ve never met a Cole, though.

    I am impressed that you managed to finish the book. I would have just thrown it at the wall, because I cannot stand that kind of stupidity.

  25. 25
    JaneyD says:

    I want the name of that fantasy book Scrin mentioned!

  26. 26
    TKF says:

    An Unlikely Setup was following the path of one of my new favorite forms of category romance plot: girl returns to small rural town and finds community, home, and a really hot guy with a supremely excellent bum.

    I loathe this set-up. One of the reasons I tend to avoid category romance is that they seem to favor the idea that small town = good, big city = bad. I’ve always guessed that this is because the target audience for these is middle America, where “small towns” and “small town values” are up on some kind of pedestal. Blaze books sometimes break out of this, but I’ve still been left unsatisfied by the ones I’ve tried (all highly recommended by review sites or award winners). And I just can’t bring myself to read the “His Pregnant Submissive Secretary” ones . . .

  27. 27
    Trai says:

    There are two characters named Quinn on TV right now, both girls. Quinn Fabray from Glee and Quinn James on One Tree Hill.

  28. 28
    Kifah says:

    Ack, I totally get this.  I recently read a m/m romance that was fairly excellent.  Young skateboarder, coming to terms with being gay.  Hooks up with the cop who regularly chases him down for not wearing a helmet.  Things go along swimmingly, one of the major conflicts being the young guys discomfort with the cops job and being in harms way on the job.  Finally decides he can’t handle his boyfriend’s job.  “I love you, I’m leaving you”.  Then WHAM!  How is the conflict resolved at the end of the book.  Cop quits his job.  Yup, gives it all up for luuuuuuuvvvvvvv.  I was like “are you f’n kidding me?”  I thought I might have missed a couple pages.  Quickly read through the epilogue waiting for the punch line.  No dice.  He gave it up to open a group home for boys.  ACK!  That’s not just a romance no-no,  it’s a life no-no.  Went from great book, to sucktastic in about 5 seconds.  Several hours of my life I will never get back.

  29. 29
    RebeccaJ says:

    And I’d like the name of the book Kifah read:)

  30. 30
    BethC says:

    Does anyone actually know a human named Quinn? Or Cole?

    My husband’s cousin named his younger son (now in his mid-20’s) Cole.  And I know several young girls, all in the 6 to 10-year-old range, named Cole.

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