Author: Loretta Hill
RRP $32.99 (eBook $various)
Review: Monique Mulligan

The Girl in the Hard Hat
One of five women among 350 men. That’s intimidating. Taking on the role as the Safety Manager at the Iron Ore wharf, that’s the quickest way on to the s**tlist of every man at the construction site where Wendy Hopkins has just scored a job. But Wendy, the protagonist in Loretta Hill’s second novel, The Girl in the Hard Hat, is not going to let that get in her way. She’s in Cape Lambert, a port facility in north of Western Australia, to find her father and she’s not giving up until she finds him.

For those who’ve read Hill’s debut novel, The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots, this next book is a return to a familiar environment and characters. The hot and dusty Pilbara region hardly seems an ideal location for romance and yet Hill has shown that’s there’s plenty of sizzle up there; readers have welcomed her books and her unusual setting (she was a 2012 finalist in the Australian Romance Readers awards and was recently voted into Booktopia’s Top 75 Australia’s Favourite Authors).

So, is this a sequel? Yes and no. It’s a sequel in the sense that it’s set at the same camp and features many of the characters from The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots. But it’s not a continuation of Lena and Dan’s story (although readers do get a “where are they now” update); this is Wendy’s story, and that of Gavin Jones, a womanising man who sets his sights on most women who come to the camp.

Wendy has been lied to her whole life. When she finds out that her father is not the man who brought her up, she sets out to find the man who fathered her and disappeared. Her mother has reluctantly given her a name and so she makes her way to the north-west to track down this mysterious man. Her uncle Mike has fixed her up with a job, which turns out to be non-existent, but she is offered another job on the spot – to get everything in order safety-wise. It’s quickly apparent that no one wants her there; she’s viewed with suspicion at first, and then becomes the butt of everyone’s jokes as the men do their darndest to undermine her.

Meeting Gavin throws Wendy off-kilter initially. Who does he think he is, kissing her out of the blue? Try as she might, Wendy finds it increasingly hard to ignore Gavin’s magnetic charm; she uses her trademark efficiency to deal with him only to find that somehow, he manages to get underneath all her defence mechanisms. And Gavin is struggling with the same thing – he has good reason for avoiding commitment and he’s always managed to do that before. But there’s something different about Wendy that lets him throw caution to the wind.

Adding to the sexual tension is the looming threat of a destructive cyclone. Is the camp safe enough for the workers? Or do they need to find an alternative location to wait out the storm? It’s all hands on deck as Wendy and her co-workers prepare for the storm, completely unaware that another threat is about to blow into town – and this one wants Gavin.

Romantic suspense, drama and comedy team up to make a delightful read full of engaging characters. The storyline was well-executed and I think, even better than the first book; I liked the extra suspense thrown in and the side-story involving Gavin that added depth to his character.

From a romantic perspective, I enjoyed the banter and bickering that characterised Wendy and Gavin’s initial relationship, knowing all the while that the build-up of sexual tension had to lead somewhere. I liked Wendy’s feisty temperament and persistence – she showed that she could hold her own, and I think that for Gavin, that was important. I also liked seeing Gavin’s character develop from the skirt-chaser he appeared in The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots; it was a front, a coping mechanism he resorted to in order to protect himself.

Peopled with a cast of likeable rogues and no-nonsense women, The Girl in the Hard Hat is an easy, entertaining read that will appeal to lovers of romantic suspense and contemporary fiction.

Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley.

Bookish treat: Wendy and Gavin eat some amazing prawns while on a date; how about tempura prawns eaten daintily? Just try not to leave smudges on your e-reader!




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