The Girl in the Hard Hat by Loretta Hill
Despite the weak romance and a family conflict that remains unresolved, there are enough interesting characters and situations to make this book an engaging, if not altogether satisfying, read.
This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for a list of books I’ve read so far.
Wendy Hopkins arrives at the Pilbara in search of her biological father and some self-redemption after a bad decision in her previous job resulted in disastrous consequences. But being the safety manager at an iron ore wharf comes with a load of politics, an overdose of testosterone and, with cyclone season approaching, more danger than she bargains for.*
When a stranger, who ‘brought the same visual pop to her eyeballs that Brad Pitt brought to the big screen’, follows her while jogging, she punches him in the jaw. In return, he steals a kiss. The stranger turns out to be Gavin Jones, piling engineer and infamous womaniser, and it also turns out that he may have the information Wendy is looking for.
It must be a sign of how starved I am for Australian-set romances featuring authentic sounding Australian characters that I found it difficult to put this book down, despite the lacklustre character arcs and romance plot. I might have skimmed through some of the descriptions of working procedures at the wharf, but I was always drawn back by the dialogue. Where else, for example, would you find a simile like this: ’…when he came in here last week he was looking at you like you were a bowl of hot wedges served with sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.’
The banter between Wendy and Chub, the HR manager, is the highlight of the book, but project manager Carl’s non-stop swearing and deck engineer Fish’s predilection for nabbing sea creatures come a close second and third. Yes, they might be caricatures, but it’s not difficult to imagine one or two people in real life who might resemble them. There’s no room for political correctness in these characters—for the most part, this is charming, although I took exception to a rape joke. It’s not done as an insult or in a mean way, but it’s not something I like to see in my romance.
Speaking of romance, the lack of chemistry between Wendy and Gavin makes it impossible to believe that she’d be open to his advances after the jogging debacle. Even as they get to know each other better, their courtship seems shallow and largely plot-driven. Gavin really does have a good reason for not wanting to become seriously involved with Wendy, but even this is mostly played out for the plot—the high emotional stakes that make a good romance so compelling are missing from the story.
Wendy’s search for her father also had potential, but again, this subplot falls short of expectations. The pacing and the structure don’t allow for the family drama to play out well enough to make the reader care. Everyone involved seems one-dimensional, and Wendy’s arc is unfinished—despite claiming to have come to terms with what she discovers, Wendy basically decides to ignore her broken family relationships.
This book is loosely related to The Girl in the Steel-Capped Boots, but it’s not necessary to have read the first book. Fans of the first book should enjoy the recurring characters, particularly Lena and Dan, who get their own very minor subplot.
Last but not least, I seem to be on a roll with vomit books. This one features the heroine ‘just making it into the [toilet] room before her breakfast came up’ after she deals with a workplace accident. Then she vomits again before the scene ends. One more for my list.
*The author notes, before the start of the book, that current conditions and attitudes at the Cape Lambert wharf are much better than depicted in the book.
Yay or nay?
Despite the weak romance and a family conflict that remains unresolved, The Girl in the Hard Hat has enough interesting characters and situations to make it an engaging, if not altogether satisfying, read.
Who might enjoy it: Romance readers who love a strong sense of place in their stories
Who might not enjoy it: Readers who like their characters to be politically correct
An advance reading copy of this book was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley.