I find myself once again coming late to an author who all the rest of the book-lovin’ gals around me have already enjoyed, but here we are at Loretta Hill’s romantic Aussie adventure The Girl in the Hard Hat. This lively exploration of women in a man’s world follows on from The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots, although it has a self-contained narrative. Here we meet Wendy Hopkins, who has arrived in the Pilbara to take a job at an iron ore wharf, and search for the father she’s never met while she’s there. After being promoted to Safety Manager within days of arriving, Wendy wins the nickname ‘The Sargeant’ , and must take on a misogynist work culture, a harsh environment and a stubborn status quo to overhaul safety procedures and get the wharf ready for the coming cyclone season.
I found Wendy’s work situation to be a fresh and original setting for an ‘outback romance’; Loretta Hill is in the unusual position of having worked as a mining engineer herself, so the terminology and descriptions of machinery and landscape are authentic. I learned so much about an environment which is completely foreign to me (donga, anyone?) and it struck me that these books might be great tools for helping potential employees navigate the terrain – or for partners of mining employees who may have little understanding of the culture. The education, though, comes gift wrapped with comic relief, heaving love scenes and a smart, likeable protagonist ensuring this is still a fun, summer read, not a text book.
At the heart of the novel is a will-they/won’t-they romance which doesn’t offer many surprises as it unfolds (“She didn’t need a psychic to tell her that those love-you-today, leave-you-tomorrow eyes were Trouble with a capital T”), but the individual characters are developed with some unexpected twists and turns. Wendy gets regular lessons in not judging books by their covers (or cocky colleagues by their swagger) while she’s trying so hard to prove that she, herself, is no walking stereotype.
If I have one criticism it’s that there seemed to be a lot of peripheral players in this story; there wasn’t time to get to know them all, so in some cases I wondered why they were there. In other cases, they felt a little broadly drawn. Admittedly, though, some of them may have told their own stories in the previous novel. Their other purpose may have been to give a sense of the close-quarters in which the workers were living – where everyone knows everyone, so secrets never stay secret for very long.
One of the appeals of a good romance novel is vicarious thrills – a little raunchy escapism for your holiday sunlounge – but The Girl in the Hard Hat also offers vicarious travel. At the risk of sounding terribly girly, I could never put up with the sun, smell and sexism of mining life, so I really enjoyed getting a glimpse into that world without actually having to break a sweat.
The Girl in the Hard Hat is published by Random House and I thank them kindly for my copy.
This review is part of Loretta Hill’s promotional blog tour which left http://confessionsfromromaholics.com/ yesterday and will head to http://bookdout.wordpress.com/ tomorrow. You might enjoy visiting them to see what they thought of Wendy and the crew 🙂
Random House is offering a free taster of Hill’s work on their website (click here). There are so many treats available to us now that ebooks abound!
Finally, I’m beginning my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013 with no particular plan or pattern, but I’m pleased to say I’m off and running with Loretta Hill as my first entrant.