I’ll admit, Charles McGrath was not the NYT correspondent I would have expected to file a story on the results of the NASCAR/Harlequin partnership, it all seeming a bit mass-culture for his usual tastes, but the resulting story comes off quite well—no further behind the curve in noting the rise of paranormal romances, “in which the path to true love often entails looking past a guy’s fangs and body hair to discover his inner self,” than anybody else outside the industry , and only gently chiding towards other conventions of the romance genre. My favorite light jab: “In these books there is also a good deal more engine-revving, so to speak, than actual clutch-popping or rubber-burning.”)
But will women readers care for romantic heroes cut from the NASCAR mold? That’s the big question, and one of Harlequin’s competitors, Kensington Books, is doing its best to seem not terribly concerned. “I don’t know a whole lot of romance readers who love NASCAR the way they love American Idol,” suggests editorial director Kate Duffy. “Sports is just not something we talk about at our big romance conferences.” But what about the fans? One Toronto blogger weighs in with her take on Speed Dating, the inaugural title in the series. “I’ve read my fair share of Harlequins and this one was as wonderfully crappy as all the rest,” says Karen Collyer of Dog-Eared Soul, who is admittedly more of a racing fan than a romance reader. Well, the season’s only just begun; let’s see whether this series has what it takes to get to the finish line.